New Beginnings, Old Enemies
by Dylan
Rating: NC-17

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CHAPTER ELEVEN

Buffy slowly moved her hand up to touch Faith's face, but Faith flinched. There was fear in her eyes as she watched Buffy. As they both waited for their lips to meet again, more conclusively. It made Buffy pull back slightly, green eyes weaving into brown as they searched for answers, reasons, and hope.

The air around them shifted, a gentle breeze blowing over them causing the blanket to ripple. Buffy felt the edges of the dream blur, but she gripped onto it. She didn't want to be back on a cold rock, in a desert, lost and needing to treat Faith badly to make herself feel better.

Buffy lifted her hand again, her eyes fixed on Faith. Faith didn't flinch this time, even though she was completely confused as to what was happening. She thought she'd see where it went. See where Buffy took them. She was aware that this wasn't a normal slayer dream. They had never touched in one of those, not through lack of trying on her part. Faith could also feel the hard rock beneath her back, despite the fact they were still in the bed.

A soft sigh escaped Buffy as she brought her face closer to Faith's once more, her hand cupping her cheek. She stopped all thoughts. Stopped all cares as their mouths met again. She brushed her lips slowly over Faith's and Faith tempted back.

She couldn't taste her lips, couldn't smell the rising heat from Faith. All that was there was a haunting scent of fresh blood. It almost made her leap back, away from Faith and whatever it was insisting she kiss her at that moment. But she didn't, instead kissing Faith a little deeper, her tongue flicking out over the delicate crevice in her lower lip before it slipped into Faith's mouth.

Their lips moved across each other painfully slow. Hot breaths escaping and mingling as Buffy told herself it was just a dream. That the hard surface beneath her wasn't there. That the desert wind wasn't blowing through her hair.

She closed her eyes, feeling Faith's tongue wet against her own. There was no hunger. No lust. Just a deep need that neither of them understood. As if being played like pawns in a game, they had no control over their actions towards one another. The lines between reality and dream, truth and fantasy blurred too much for either girl to see.

There would be no seeing, no knowing, and no questions right now. Faith moved her hand up into Buffy's hair at the back of her neck, feeling it flow over her fingers even though she knew it was tied up in a ponytail. Her mouth was eager yet slow and smooth over Buffy's. Her body charged. Charged in a way it always was around her, but now it was seeking something more. More than fighting. More than pain.

Buffy slipped her tongue around Faith's, tender warmth and wetness sending a shiver down her spine. She had never felt so much need before. Never felt so much abandonment. Her mind and her body lay stripped of its senses and memories. Their lips yielded to each other. Bodies falling into a comfortable mesh of skin and muscle, of hearts pounding and rumbling like thunder.

Faith gave up hope of pushing Buffy away. She couldn't. She couldn't even bring herself to think about doing it. There was no use pretending like she hadn't always wanted Buffy. Something inside her had always yearned for her. Always called out only to be rebuffed.

She breathed hot and heavy into Buffy's mouth as Buffy moved her hand from her cheek and down. Down over soft skin and erect nipples, down over her stomach as it jumped at the touch, down to the slight covering of hair that she liked to keep trim and sparse.

Faith closed her eyes, staying in the dream despite the world around her threatening to spill into it and destroy it. She heard a moan escape her own throat as Buffy's fingers parted the lips of her pussy as they explored. As they searched and sought her wetness. The testimony to her desire for Buffy. Her secrets laid out, exposed.

Buffy kissed Faith unhurriedly as she moaned at her touch. She didn't know why she was doing what she was. Why she was allowing herself to indulge and to go against everything she'd held true. It was as if their shared dreams peeled away the layers they hid themselves behind. Like they couldn't hide when they connected as slayers. They were naked to each other, in more ways than one. In every way.

It had always been that way, but before. . .there had always been a barrier, a release from the dream when they tried to make contact. There was no such release this time, and Buffy had permitted herself to follow her own lead. She let go, a deep part of her kicking and screaming and yelling no. A deeper part spurring her on.

Faith shuddered beneath her as her fingers found a well of desire. Faith was hot and wet, and Buffy wished so much that she could smell it. Her own body responded, mimicking Faith's in its wetness. A strong thigh between her legs a teasing reminder of who she was with.

She covered her fingertips in Faith's arousal, not questioning why Faith wasn't throwing her off. Not looking beyond what she could feel, what she wanted right then. Nothing mattered right then other than her fingers and Faith's reactions. Their lips and tongues. Their breaths. Their need to cling to their dream.

She brought her slick fingers up a little, sliding them over the hard clit, so swollen for her. Needing her. Calling out for her as she felt how they were both aching.

Aching after so long. So long they had wanted.

Buffy rubbed over Faith feeling the scrape of denim at the back of her hand. She refused to acknowledge it, choosing instead to filter her eyes so all she could see was Faith beneath her as she lay slightly to the younger girl's side, the now moist thigh still flexing between Buffy's legs.

Faith whimpered in delicious moans, her hips rising to each stroke of Buffy's fingers over her clit. She shut off her mind and just felt. She could feel her sticky wet juices seeping from herself as Buffy teased her perfectly. So wet. So ready for Buffy.

When she opened her eyes she saw stone and darkness, but when she closed them she saw nothing but white. Nothing but Buffy's blonde hair draping over her, as she leaned down to kiss her once more.

Buffy circled her fingertips faster, over and around Faith's clit as she began to shudder for her. Faith's hot breath mingled with her own as she swallowed the little gasps and the heady groans as they kissed open mouthed and needy. Each shudder sent a jolt through Buffy and she felt Faith begin to climax against her fingers. Against her body. Against her soul.

She pushed out the weighty thoughts from her head and concentrated on Faith, and on her fingers, slick with Faith's pussy. Warm and dripping and needing her touch. The swollen, hard point of Buffy's focus driving her fingers on as the enchanting feel of it caused her mind to fray at the edges.

Faith was hard for her. Wet for her. Grasping at her as she touched and touched, and felt herself slip beneath a sea of longing as Faith reacted to everything she did.

A final burst. A final moan into her mouth and grasp at her back and Faith was done.

Faith clasped her legs together, trapping Buffy's hand and her thigh between hers. She couldn't see or think past the swirling colours in her mind, or the feeling of Buffy pressed against her, her fingers still hidden in her wet, trembling pussy.

There were a hundred whys in Faith's head, waiting for their moment. A hundred confused mumbles wanting to know when she had become such a bottom and Buffy such a force of desire. Head shaking mutterings about what was happening. About Buffy. About herself.

Her voice failed her. Faith couldn't speak, all that was left was more need. More Buffy causing her life to spiral in circles, sending her this way and that, never knowing which way was right and wrong.

Faith couldn't even be sure if they were still dreaming, and at what point the dream slipped into reality. She lay, waiting once more for Buffy to take the lead. Her instincts, her body, the raging fire within her all insisted that she respond by curling her own fingers around Buffy's clit and sending her cashing over the edge into the same pit with her. But something told Faith that it would be a mistake.

Whatever it was that had driven Buffy to do what she had, she wasn't looking for reciprocation. Her body was slumped on Faith's, seemingly sated in its own way. The soft breaths over Faith's ear indicating that she had fallen back to sleep. Indicating that their slayer dream had ended sooner than probably either one of them had realised.

Faith closed her eyes after witnessing the first glint of a new day in their desert landscape. She relaxed back onto the hard surface, her thighs no longer clasping onto Buffy, but her arm still thrown around her. She didn't want to let go. . .not just yet. Buffy's fingers remained covered in her sticky arousal, resting in her pussy, and Faith wasn't going to remove them.

Whatever was happening. . .it was for a reason. If Buffy was going to wake and freak out, then Faith would be ready for it. She always was.

*****

Xander tripped over a shattered piece of wood as he entered Giles' home. His box of donuts almost spilled to the floor, but ever the master juggler, he responded just in time and managed to set them on the coffee table.

Grabbing one from the top and stuffing it in his mouth he finally looked around. The piece of wood that had tried to foil his attempt to be the deliverer of donuts was due to the fact the door was broken.

"That can't be good," he murmured to himself around a mouthful of sugar-y goodness.

To his left, in a space that had been cleared on the floor, two girls lay side by side holding hands. He blinked and recognised the circle of candles around them was something witchy. Something Tara and Willow knew far more about than he ever hoped to.

It was just another day in Sunnydale. Broken doors, witchery, some impending doom or prophecy, and the call for him to come and help. He was good at helping. He prided himself on his helping skills. Xander was an expert in the field of help.

He stepped over his catatonic friends, knocking over and extinguishing a candle on the way, and went in search of Giles, donut still crammed in his mouth.

"Hey, Gilester. . .did you know you've got people taking a nap in there?" he said, spraying little chunks of donut onto his shirt as he rounded the corner and found the Watcher in his kitchen. "It's a good job you called. . .we can't let sleep get in the way of. . .of. . .what exactly is it that we're doing?" he asked, realising he had no idea what was going on.

"You're eating the jelly one?" Giles enquired before acknowledging Xander's question.

"Um," Xander blinked, wondering if offering Giles the half-eaten donut would soften the blow. He hadn't meant to eat it, it had just happened to be on the top of the pile, looking delicious and enticing.

"Never mind," Giles sighed, feeling like the respect he deserved was terribly misplaced. "We have more important things to think about, and to do."

"Well, I'm here, ready to save the day." Xander grinned and wiped the crumbs from his chin.

"I fear we need more than your jelly donut eating skills, Xander. In fact, we're in rather a pickle. Or at least Buffy and Faith are," he indicated as they made their way back into the living room.

The air around the two witches had a strange blue hue as they lay meditating and linking themselves to the mystical energy emitted from their circle. He could hear Tara whispering words of comfort to Willow. His faith in them was unquestionable. His belief in Willow and her power sure and certain.

She had grown under Tara's influence. She had more to give than she could ever imagine. Giles hoped Willow would always have the strength to remain out of the darkness of magic. The darkness was alluring and would mean certain devastation if Willow was pulled into it. He hoped she would never cross the line into the dark arts, for all their sakes.

"Whoa, did you just say Faith?" Xander stuttered, his eyes wide in fear as he followed Giles. "She's here? She's. . .did she hurt Buffy?"

"No, Xander. She hasn't hurt Buffy," Giles assured, turning to his recent notes and settling down to read through them once more.

Willow disentangled herself from her daze upon hearing Xander's anxiety laden voice. She squeezed Tara's hand and they both sat up, their eyes twinkling with the remnants of pure white light.

"Faith has been staying with Giles to get better. I can't say I'm jumping for joy about it, but. . .Giles has made me see that she's just a messed up kid that got lost and scared," Willow said, crossing her legs in the circle of candles around her.

"Sure, cos when I get lost I start killing people too," Xander said, his voice vibrating into a rather unattractive squeak. "Only yesterday I was wandering around the Mall, trying to find my favourite shop when whammo, I realised I was lost and began mutilating people to get my bearings."

"Enough of that, Xander," Giles said sternly, looking over the top of his glasses at Xander. "We have important work to do. I assure you Faith poses no threat to either Buffy or us."

Xander did his best to stop the twitching in his leg. Faith back in Sunnydale was not giving him warm fuzzy feelings. He had liked her. . .once, but when she'd turned on him he'd looked right into the eyes of death, and he'd never been so scared in his life. The little boy inside him wanted to run home and lock himself in the closet. But here in Sunnydale there was no running, and monsters knew how to open closets. They had keys.

"So, where is she?" he asked, his voice still a little shaky.

"Well," Giles began, lifting his glasses from his nose, "we're pretty sure she's with Buffy, in a dimension other than this one, placed there by a very old and powerful book. By all accounts it isn't a place we should leave them for very long, and we can't rely on them being slayers to get them out. We think we can tap into the mystical energy of this other. . .world, and hopefully pull them out before any harm is done."

"So, she's not here then?" Xander questioned, looking around furtively whilst trying to understand what Giles was saying.

"No, Xander, she's not, and neither is Buffy," Willow pointed out, impatient with Xander's fear. "Buffy's in danger, and Faith isn't the one we have to worry about, it's. . .well, it's monsters eating them from the ground, some crazy guy making them crazier than him, and them being trapped, forever, in some kind of evil purgatory hell where they'll get judged and tortured and. . ."

Tara rested her hand lightly on Willow's knee, quashing the panic beginning to take hold of her. She took a breath, trying to remember how to stay positive. Recalling what Tara had mentioned about the magical rifts that weaved through dimensions and how they could help.

They were planning to try to locate the slayers through one of the rifts, and with luck bring them back home, but there were countless rifts, and a very real chance that any rescue attempt would prove fruitless.

"We'll get Buff back though right? I mean. . .we've been in tighter spots than this I'm sure," Xander said, trying to convince himself that he hadn't just heard some very bad news.

"I'm afraid this is quite serious, Xander," Giles confirmed. "These magical rifts are our only probable link to this world they're trapped in, and as Willow said, there are many to sift through before we find the correct one. If we find the correct one at all." Placing his notes down on the coffee table next to the forgotten donuts, Giles continued on gravely, "Even then, the chances we can get them through it back to our dimension are very slim. It requires strong witchcraft, some items we thankfully posses, and. . .a great deal of luck."

"We have luck though, right?" Xander tried to establish, real worry creasing his brow as his eyes darted from Giles to Willow.

"We have luck, Xander," Willow tried to reassure. "But. . .there's a chance the rift could kill them, in some not very nice ways I'm trying not to think about."

Xander began to pace. He didn't like the sound of not very nice death. It sounded too risky to him. Buffy couldn't die, she was the slayer. She'd been through worse. She'd defeated everything thrown at her. . .even Faith.

The thought of Faith came back to the forefront of his mind.

"And she's trapped there with Faith," he said aloud. "That can't be good. I mean. . .what happens if. . .what if they?" Xander couldn't finish his sentence. He was beside himself with worry now. His mind racing with possible car crash scenarios. "I'll do whatever it takes to get her back," he said, his voice firm and sure. "We have to get her back."

*****

As daylight seeped in past her eyelids, Buffy slowly opened her eyes. She blinked as the sun bathed her in light, temporarily blinding her as her pupils adjusted. The hard unyielding rock beneath her reminded her why she hated camping, as her body began to unfreeze from its stiff position.

She looked down as her sight began to clear. The dark hair draped across the stone surface, the strong, defined features a portrait across the backdrop, the dark clothes, the soft breathing of sleep. Buffy took in the sight of Faith lying prone and unprotected next to her, and her breath caught in her throat.

She moved her hand, feeling the burn of a zipper across the back of it. Buffy closed her eyes, unsure if she felt disgust with herself or pleasure. What had she done? The words hung around her neck like a noose.

A scuffle of feet nearby drew her from herself and reminded her why she had been pulled from her slumber. They weren't alone.

CHAPTER TWELVE

Note: For Electra.
Thanks: I'd like to say a quick thanks to everybody that takes the time to review/feedback. I always forget to get around to replying to it, but I really do appreciate the effort you all put in to letting me know the story is being read :)

Moving her hand to Faith's hip, her actions subtle and slow, doing her best not to startle the other slayer or their visitor, Buffy whispered Faith's name softly. She felt the girl shifting as she woke.

"Don't move, we're not alone," Buffy said as quietly as she could, her eyes never leaving the stranger who was standing no more than thirty feet away.

It was a girl, probably in her twenties, though she looked haunted and hollow. Her eyes were black and sunken, and her hair short, sticking out in clumps on her head like it had been torn out and had grown back unevenly.

"How many?" Faith asked in a husky whisper.

Buffy had to ignore the way her body was feeling, charged and sensitive so close to Faith. Her mind flashing to remnants of the dream they'd shared, of the intimacy, of the way the dream had blurred and taken hold of her, leading her to do something she never would have imagined herself doing.

Never imagined, but sometimes dreamed.

"B!" Faith said quietly, growing agitated.

If there was something going on, Faith wanted to know what it was, and how many butts she had to kick, or vamps she had to dust.

Buffy glanced away from the savage looking but unmoving girl nearby and down to Faith. Faith's dusky eyes were looking up at her, sleep heavy, sensual, sex haze eyes that locked Buffy within them. She felt her stomach flutter as Faith licked her lower lip. It shocked her, but she was captivated by the depths of Faith's eyes. Like she could see more in them than she had before. Like there was something new to see.

"Buffy!" Faith called again, louder this time, moving so she could turn to where she supposed the threat was.

Her movement jolted Buffy out of her daze. "Sorry," she murmured, trying to wipe Faith from her mind in any form that wasn't the one she hated. "There's a. . ."

"Weird looking chick that's staring at us? Yeah, I see her," Faith pointed out as she swung her legs round to the side of the rock so she was sitting on the edge.

Faith wasn't sure if the girl was a threat; she looked pretty scrawny and vacant, but you could never tell with demons and vampires. Placing the palms of her hands on the sun-warmed rock she moved to jump off her perch.

"Wait," Buffy exclaimed, placing a hand on Faith's shoulder.

"What? Wait for her to rush us? Wait for her to bring us tea?" Faith asked. "We need to go see who she is, B, and if she doesn't try to eat us maybe she might tell us where the hell we are."

"I know," Buffy agreed, then lowered her eyes to Faith's pants, "but your fly is undone." She blushed almost redder than the sun, averting her eyes as Faith raised her eyebrow and looked down.

Stifling a chuckle Faith zipped her pants up, choosing not to say anything about it or their night together until after they had figured out who their skinny friend was. She leapt down off the rock noticing that the stranger backed away in fright.

"Hey," Faith called out, not waiting for Buffy to pull herself together and be in-charge-girl as per usual. "We're not gonna hurt you. Unless you start showing fangs or growing tentacles," Faith pointed out, slowly making her way towards the girl.

"No…no, I didn't mean it," the girl said, her voice rough and strained and eyes staring about wildly as she stumbled backwards. "Don't send him."

Faith turned to look at Buffy, who was now making her way to Faith's side. "She's pretty shaken up. Not sure if she's a threat," Faith said, not quite knowing how to handle things that weren't leaping at her.

Buffy nodded and watched the girl as she wrung her hands, nothing but fear in her sunken eyes.

"We're lost," Buffy explained. "If you could tell us where we are, maybe we can help you."

"Here," the girl muttered coarsely. "Here is pain. Here is death."

She turned away from the slayers, her shoulders hunched and back curved like she was carrying the weight of a hundred worlds. Buffy noted that her accent was one she had never heard. She was English, but her words sounded different, like she was from some old English movie. Her torn and ragged clothes were also unfamiliar. She was wearing tatty old cloth; what remained of some kind of dress.

"Where are you from?" Buffy asked, stepping closer to the stranger.

"From? Once, I was from a house so grand I thought it was heaven, but now I am torn. I am hell. I am from hell," she said, turning back towards them, pointing into the distance. "You must go. Go from here. Tell him I am done. I am done wishing. Done wanting. I will pay for what I did and ask no more to see what I once knew." Tears began to fall from her eyes.

Buffy moved a little closer, able to see the sores on the poor girl's head where her hair looked like it had been ripped out. As she got within an arms reach away, the girl jumped back, startled.

"Go, I am done," she repeated. "He will tell you where you are, and you will wish for an end to your suffering." She began to walk away, her bare feet scuffing the dust up.

"Wait," Buffy called. "Who's he? Where are we?" she asked, feeling even more lost than before.

"Leave her, B," Faith said, placing her hand on Buffy's arm to halt her advance.

"Don't touch me," Buffy snapped, whirling around to face Faith. "Don't ever touch me again, and don't tell me what to do. We need to find out where the hell we are, and how the fuck to get back. So just back off," she finished, stomping off towards the rock to retrieve her dirty jacket.

Faith attempted to let it go and just allow Buffy to be her usual short-tempered self, but she couldn't. They couldn't let things just be. They were stuck together, sharing vivid, confusing dreams. Needing to rely on each other to get back from wherever it was they had landed.

"From what I recall, B. . .it's you that likes to do the whole touching thing," Faith remarked, shaking her head as she recalled Buffy's fingers on her body.

The stranger hurried away, leaving the two slayers locked in their constant turmoil.

"Yeah, well. . .you were in my body, Faith. Remember that?" Buffy cut back, not sure where she wanted the argument to go.

"Yeah, I remember, B," Faith replied sadly. "I don't know why you're bringing that up now, but if you think I did something to you back then you're wrong. I didn't touch you, B."

Buffy narrowed her eyes, looking directly at Faith, watching as cracks appeared. As her words stripped away Faith's defiant shield. As she nestled into more familiar territory. "You certainly touched my boyfriend though, huh," she spat.

Faith felt her insides lurch at the memory, at the pain she had caused herself as well as Buffy with her actions. Running a hand through her hair, she sighed, trying not to relive the experience.

"I made mistakes, B," Faith began, not stopping when Buffy took a breath to interrupt. "Big fucking mistakes that I'll never be able to live down or make up for. If I could take it all back I would, but that ain't gonna happen, so we both have to deal with that."

"You're wrong," Buffy said sharply. "I don't have to deal with anything. I just need you as far away from me as possible. And I don't wanna hear your sob stories, Faith. I don't wanna hear about how you never had a puppy, so now you have to take it out on everybody around you."

Faith bit her lip, holding her anger in check as she squared up to face Buffy. "I don't have sob stories, B. I have a life that fucked me over. And yunno what? You're gonna have to hear it, princess, `cause we're stuck here. Me and you. Look around you, B," Faith said, sweeping her arm out to indicate their barren surroundings. "There's no escape. Just like I had no escape when I came to you for help. Yeah, that's right. . .I landed in Sunnydale for help but I was too fucking proud to ask for it."

"The only help you ever needed was psychiatric," Buffy interjected, laughing. "I'm done talking about this, Faith."

Faith winced but stood her ground. "Well, I'm not," she made clear. "And you're gonna have to stop being that spoiled brat you like to be `cause it's wearing thin again."

Faith sighed and rubbed her fingers over her forehead, feeling the after effects of her concussion kicking in once more. She didn't want to fight. She didn't want to blame. But Buffy always had a way of backing her into a corner.

"Oh, so it's all my fault?" Buffy exclaimed out of nowhere. "You did what you did because of me. Right. . .great excuse, Faith. It doesn't wash, though. I did nothing wrong."

"I never said it was your fault, Buffy. There are no excuses I could ever come up with to explain away what I did. . .but you sure as shit didn't help," Faith said, raising her voice, sorry that they had to fight again, especially after the night they had shared.

Buffy shook her head and turned away from Faith, her arms crossed to keep her fists in check.

"You hated me being there, huh," Faith said, continuing when Buffy gave a confused grunt. "I came to Sunnydale and you suddenly weren't special anymore. You weren't the only slayer and you couldn't stand that. Couldn't stand me being there taking some of the spot-light," she said, finally having her say. Her voice being heard if not her words.

"That's bullshit, Faith, and you know it," Buffy snapped, turning to point at Faith. "I was nothing but nice to you."

"Sure, when you knew it would make you look like the `good slayer'. You don't think I have ears though? You don't think I heard how much you hated me being there?" Faith retorted.

"You don't know anything," Buffy shouted, growing uncomfortable in her own skin. Wishing she could just wash Faith away. Wash her out of her. Wash the bad memories. "Nothing." Buffy wasn't sure about it all herself. The past was a confused place.

Faith looked down, not really knowing what words should come next. "That's just it. I never knew anything. I didn't know who I was meant to be. I didn't know what I was fighting for anymore."

"It certainly wasn't on my side," Buffy mumbled.

Faith looked up at Buffy, her eyes enveloping Buffy's as she spoke. "I tried, B. . .like I said, I made mistakes, and one of those was not fitting in. Your side wasn't for a girl like me, or at least that's how it seemed at the time."

"You didn't give. . ." Buffy stopped before uttering the word me, "it a chance." She couldn't deny that Faith had made her feel less `special', and that the other slayer's presence had affected her more than she knew how to admit. That wasn't the whole story, however. The rest lay hidden within herself.

"I didn't feel like I had a chance, B. I'm. . ."

"Don't say it," Buffy demanded abruptly, sensing what Faith wanted to say. She didn't want to hear how sorry Faith was. She didn't want to feel it. Didn't dare to know she meant it.

It would change everything.

Faith looked down once again, prodding with her boot at a lone rock amongst the orange dirt. She gave it a kick, sending it far into the distance. She understood why Buffy wouldn't allow her to apologise. Buffy needed to hold onto her hatred. It made the world a more stable place. Evil was evil and good. . .wasn't Faith.

Faith knew that herself. She would never completely leave her demons behind. They were part of her. The inner most dark part of her, dwelling with the pure power of the slayer within.

It was within Buffy too, but Buffy denied its existence. She always would.

Faith took a breath, wanting to continue. Needing to say more, even if she was being refused the right to be sorry.

"Don't, Faith," Buffy interjected, her green eyes laying heavy on Faith. "I don't wanna talk anymore."

Buffy brushed down her jacket and placed it around her hips. There wasn't much point; it was ripped and dirty and no more than a rag now. She wanted to cry; for her jacket, for her scuffed boots, for the fact she was far away from everything that kept her feeling safe, for what had happened with Faith in their semi-dream. It was all too much.

Faith watched as Buffy rubbed at her eyes before fixing her tangled blonde hair. She wanted to back down, but there was still something left unsaid. Still something that needed addressing, for the sake of her own sanity.

"We need to talk about last night, B," Faith pushed, her words almost trembling from her lips.

Buffy felt her heart stop momentarily. The small, tiny, infinitesimal hope that Faith wouldn't remember dissolved. She pushed a stray strand of blonde from her eyes and turned to fully face the other slayer.

"We're not gonna talk about anything, Faith," Buffy said slowly, making sure Faith heard every syllable.

She turned away from Faith and swallowed the threat of tears. It was all far too much.

Faith sighed and looked up, the strands of red and yellow light weaving around a cloudless sky giving her no answers. No solace. As she was about to whisper a small plea to the heavens a loud noise ripped its way towards them.

It was a roar, spewing from the valley ahead like bubbling lava from a volcano. Within the challenging sound Faith heard distinct words.

"Fear me, and run no more," came the demonic snarl.

"Well, I guess that's where we're headed," Buffy shrugged, setting off towards the terrible screeching noise as it quietened.

"Sure, death-wish girl," Faith muttered, following Buffy without hesitation, wishing she still had her smokes.

A few hours passed and the valley and its surrounding hills loomed larger ahead of them. They'd heard no more demonic voices bar the one in Faith's head pleading with her for a cigarette. The sand had so far ceased to try to devour them and they had come across no more wandering English girls.

Faith wasn't sure they should be headed towards the valley, but it was the only thing they could head for. There was nothing else on the horizon. The hills on either side rose up out of lush green vegetation, completely unlike anything they had so far come across.

She clenched her jaw and narrowed her eyes, feeling they were walking straight into a trap. She'd done her fighting for the day with Buffy, so said nothing. It would be easier brawling with demons than getting Buffy to change her mind or their direction.

Their feet finally hit soft, green grass, and they looked into the darkness of the trees ahead of them between the menacing hills. The way seemed blocked with branches and thick jungle-like undergrowth. There was no light from within, and none seeping into the foliage from the brightness all around them.

"Looks pretty blocked to me," Faith said, uttering the first words that had passed between them since their earlier argument.

"Looks can be deceiving," Buffy replied, not even glancing Faith's way as she pushed aside a large branch, revealing a leaf-strewn path before them.

Faith raised her eyebrows and squinted into the darkness, seeing nothing, but hearing scratching and rustling from deep within. The path wasn't a very inviting prospect.

"After you, princess," Faith said, sweeping her hand out, indicating for Buffy to go first.

"Since when did you become the cautious one?" Buffy asked, laughing quietly to herself as she recalled a time Faith used to love to jump into things with both feet.

"Since I got burned for being the impulsive one, B," Faith replied. "You don't kill somebody by accident and not learn from that," she finished sadly.

Buffy paused, some part of herself wanting to say something. She pushed it away, ignoring the implications. Ignoring the fact the way ahead seemed less than welcoming.

She was a slayer. The slayer. There was no way she was going to stay lost without a fight.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Buffy whacked the thick undergrowth out of her way with a branch she had tugged from a dying tree. They had been travelling along the dark and shadowy path for quite some time, and found nothing but more jungle ahead of them.

They were growing weary with the heavy humidity, and both girls felt their bodies calling out for water. As if somebody was reading their minds, the next brushed aside awning of limp palm revealed a shallow stream trickling between a scattering of rocks that crossed their path.

Faith wiped at her brow and licked the salty sweat from her top lip. "Not as refreshing as a nice cold Bud, but it'll do," she commented, throwing her jacket to the ground and crouching near the stream.

"Wait, how do we know it's safe?" Buffy questioned, looking up and down the meandering water as it chased the slight descent they had been walking up. "I mean, seems kinda strange how it's right here. . .on the path."

Faith let her fingertips feel the soft cold current as she lowered her hand into the water. "The path starts again at the other side," she pointed out with her other hand. "Maybe it crosses the valley as it goes down, towards. . .the complete lack of lake at the bottom." She furrowed her brow, suddenly thinking that maybe Buffy was right to be wary.

Buffy watched as Faith whipped her hand away from the water and stood, inspecting her fingers. "They still all there?" she asked, looking over the taller girl's shoulder, trying not to stand too close.

"Seems like," Faith replied, wiggling her digits. "I dunno, B, this place is pretty weird and for all we know this stuff isn't water at all, but I'm wicked thirsty and hot, and right now. . .being poisoned really doesn't seem like a bad idea," Faith decided, disregarding her own concerns and plonking down onto her jacket to take the weight off her feet.

She proceeded to take her boots and socks off and roll up her pants, letting out a sigh of relief as she dipped her feet into the cooling stream.

Buffy stood and watched from behind, her brow glistening with a thin sheen of perspiration as the heat bore down on them. She shook her head and did her best to ignore the droplet of sweat she could see trickling its way into the back of Faith's tight pants. Faith had her shirt pulled up a little way, revealing the hot skin of her lower back.

Buffy swallowed hard past the thirst. Past her thoughts as she watched the trickle disappear. She broke her gaze away only to look down at her own fingers. Fingers that had touched Faith intimately. Fingers that had eased Faith to orgasm.

Buffy shuddered involuntarily and brought her fingers up to her nostrils. She wished she could smell them, but everything was still just the sharp tang of blood. She closed her eyes, images of the night before making their mark on her memory. Faith's mouth had been so warm and soft. Her body hot and strong against her. Buffy felt her heart quivering in her chest as it began to beat faster as she recalled what it felt like to let go and be with Faith the way. . .the way she could never allow herself to be, and had fought hard to ignore.

Ignoring it was the only way to cope. It had driven her thus far. It had kept her safe. When Faith had began to confuse Buffy and force her to deal with feelings she hadn't wanted, her instincts had taken hold. The slayer inside her always pushed Buffy to be strong and resistant, and with Faith it had taken over. It had taken over not long after her arrival.

Maybe it was the `darkness' of the slayer that Giles sometimes rambled about, and that Faith seemed to embrace. Whatever it was, it was the reason Buffy used her anger and her fists against Faith. To keep her away. To keep her own feelings at bay.

Buffy was only just reluctantly realising it, and it made her sick to her stomach. She didn't want that part of her to be in control, it was destructive, it made her a pawn, and it made her one of the reasons Faith had lost control. It made her question her own ability to stay good. To be just. To keep angry and hurt.

"Well, I'm not dead yet so I think this is ok," Faith said, turning to Buffy, breaking Buffy's thought train. "Tastes like cold and it's good," she said, her smile broad, flawless, something Buffy had missed.

Despite their earlier argument and Buffy's need to keep her mind focused on all that was bad about Faith, she tried to hold onto her previous thoughts that maybe, just maybe. . .they could salvage something from the wreckage of their past. If she could get past the overwhelming hurt and feeling of betrayal. If she allowed some of what Faith had said that morning to filter through the hard casing she felt she needed. `If' was a very scary thought, however.

She moved closer to Faith, eyeing up the stream cautiously as the light filtered in sporadically through the canopy, crouching to scoop up some of the water. With a shrug, Buffy splashed it over her face, allowing drops of it to tumble in-between her lips. It felt good.

Faith smiled, her eyes gazing on Buffy, basking in the blonde girl's effortless beauty as she watched the glistening droplets of water roll across her skin.

Nothing Buffy could do or say would ever change Faith's mind about how she looked. How she held herself, and how it caused something in Faith to spark. It had sparked from the moment they'd met, and though Faith had struggled to understand, and had ducked and dodged the inevitable conclusion, it was always there. It always had been.

As drops of water dripped from Buffy's chin, she caught Faith's eye. Neither of them looked away. Behind the defiant screaming inside her, Buffy listened to the deeper part that told her not to run and hide. She held Faith's dark eyes within her own, allowing herself to plummet off the precipice just a little. Forgetting for an instant all that had gone before.

She wanted to smile, but that was maybe a step too far. Though her instincts were to smile at Faith for sitting there with her feet immersed in water, hair damp from its cooling splashes, body relaxed and burning to be touched. . .she couldn't. Her smile was still caged behind their disastrous history.

Buffy looked down, breaking eye contact with Faith. She pulled her jacket from around her waist and immersed it in the water. She let it soak, wringing out some of the dust, then letting it hold as much water as it could before mopping the back of her neck with the drenched material.

The water ran down her back and front, soaking her shirt and easing some of the heat. She placed the cooled jacket over her shoulders and drank a hand scoop of water, letting the liquid spill over her lips as she quenched her thirst.

Faith tried not to watch, turning her head away so she wasn't staring and in a position to anger Buffy. She could still see the other girl out of the corner of her eye, and she felt old sensations flooding through her once more. Sensations Buffy pulled from her so easily. It didn't help that Buffy had triggered so much more in her with her actions during their supposed dream. It had made Faith's desire solid.

It was no longer just a shimmering glint somewhere Faith couldn't quite reach. It was burned on her skin. A scorch of deep hidden desire that she could never hope to overlook now.

Her lips wanted to taste more; they wanted to feel the soft skin and drink the drops of water that shimmered on the surface. Her hands knew for certain that they wanted to explore and know and posses, more than Faith was truly aware of herself.

But Buffy was a mess of chaos and uncertainty. Whatever it was they had shared that night, it was doubtful they would ever share it again, or even touch upon the subject.

"We shouldn't stay here long," Buffy said, standing and rearranging her sticky clothing.

Faith looked down to the pebbles beneath her feet. "I guess," she said quietly, wishing things could be easier. Wishing there was some magic word she could say that would fix everything. That would help Buffy to see how she wanted to change. How she wanted them to change.

She pushed herself up from the floor and replaced her socks and boots, cringing as she felt the clammy cotton cling to her toes. She didn't know where they were headed or what they would find when they arrived, but they didn't have many choices it seemed, and though Buffy was definitely on the wrong side of reasonable most of the time right now. . .Faith knew she had been doing the slayer thing a lot longer, and a lot more successfully.

So she followed.

They pushed through more of the jungle, travelling along the only path they had. Both girls immersed in their own thoughts, no room for arguing or talking. All they could hear was the soft breeze filtering through the leaves, and the rare rustle of some animal or other running from them as they made their way deeper.

It took a while for Buffy to stop and realise that in fact all sound had ceased. Only their footsteps, soft on the mossy floor, littered the silence.

"Faith," Buffy said softly, holding her hand out to ensure Faith would stop. "Listen."

Faith stopped next to Buffy, her eyes searching the dark fissures in the foliage. She listened intently for signs of danger.

"I don't hear anything," Faith said in a husky whisper.

"Exactly," Buffy nodded. "It's gone completely quiet."

Faith listened again, and found Buffy to be right. The wind no longer made the trees rustle, even though she could still see the tops swaying gently. There was no sound of movement anywhere, except for the hushed scuff of their boots on the ground. It was almost as if something had sucked all the sound out of the air.

"That can't be good," Faith pointed out, subconsciously moving closer to Buffy.

"On the contrary," said a deep, menacing voice from the twist in the path ahead.

Both slayers readied themselves for action; their hands clenching and bodies poised to take care of business. They both knew a demon when they heard one.

*****

Xander chewed the end of his pen, not looking for nourishment but hoping a mouth full of ink would take his mind off what had happened to Buffy. Research only made the worrier in him worry more.

"The more I look into this `over lord' the less I like it," Giles muttered, closing the leather bound book he had spent the past hour reading through.

"What did that one say?" Xander asked, not certain he wanted to know the answer.

They had discovered that the so-called Lord of the Valley was a demon from a less remote realm originally. He had been sent to the world he was now trapped in via the same book Buffy and Faith had been sent there with.

He'd committed unspeakable acts amongst his own people, driving them insane for his own pleasure. Creating monster out of otherwise quiet placid demons. He'd spent time soaking up the rich power of a hellmouth hundreds of years earlier, and his deplorable deeds had earned him fame and notoriety, until his own people had found a way to rid themselves of his vengeful rule.

They had him banished with the book.

"It described him as having less virtue and more cruelty than Lucifer himself, and that ruling was his most coveted desire. Wherever he went, he ruled, bathing in the blood of his victims and his subjects," Giles explained. "He is never to be trusted, and yearns to be feared."

"Sounds like a nice guy," Xander said with a grimace.

"All that hellmouth mojo, and all that blood. . .I'm betting he's pretty powerful," Willow frowned, gripping onto Tara's hand for comfort.

"Indeed," Giles nodded, placing his glasses next to his untouched and now cold cup of tea. "Let's hope the girls don't come across him. By all accounts it seems their only hope of salvation, if we're unsuccessful in finding the correct rift. . .is with the old bookseller, and staying well out of this demons way."

"So, the old lady could help them?" Xander asked, not quite comprehending all that was happening, but doing his best to follow the important points that he'd been told.

"It seems so," Giles replied. "She is the rightful owner of the book, and as old as the world she comes from. From what we can gather, if she is sure the captured soul is being held there unjustly, then only she can free it."

"Great, then the Buffster just has to lay it on the line for her and she'll be back here, beating up the local vamps before you can say. . .Riley has a hair piece," Xander grinned, feeling a little lighter.

"Ah, it's not really quite as simple as that, however," Giles interjected. "Buffy may hold no guilt within her for any crimes, but I'm certain Faith does."

"So? Let Faith stay there and rot, as long as we get Buffy back," Xander decreed.

Giles shook his head sadly at Xander's attitude. "Overlooking your complete lack of concern and humanitarianism for a moment," Giles stood and stretched his legs, feeling his aging bones crack as he did so, "allow me to clarify something. I was of course worried that Faith would indeed be the one in more strife than Buffy, taking into account her past and her deep feelings of guilt. . . I should point out, however, that they were pulled into the book together. A first as far as I can ascertain. This doesn't bode well for either of them. If they are intrinsically linked in some way, through their slayer line possibly, then without Faith there will be no Buffy. They must come back together, or not at all."

Xander blinked, attempting to understand.

"What he means is. . .if we can't get them back, then they're pretty much stuck if Faith can't get past the fact she isn't a murderer," Willow sighed, wishing she herself could find some way to see Faith as guilt free.

"Then what are we waiting for," Xander exclaimed, throwing his chewed pen down to the book strewn table. "Let's get rifting. I can chant, and wear beads. . .point me in the direction of witchery so we can get our Buffy back."

Willow smiled gently and passed him a candle. "We'll do just that," she assured hopefully.

*****

Faith felt the prickles tickling down her spine, a clear indication that they were near a demon or something similar. She felt the slayer in her awake and quickly scanned the area for possible weapons. It had been too long and she was ready for some action.

Both girls stood their ground, waiting for an attacker to charge at them from the way ahead. They were expecting a huge, mountain of a demon going by his voice, but what appeared. . .was a rather scrawny little old man wearing a shabby loin-cloth.

He teetered towards them, wringing his hands.

Buffy stood straighter once she was sure he was alone, tilting her head and raising her eyebrow as he made his slow way to get to them. Faith wasn't taking any chances and stayed on her guard. For all she knew, the old guy could suddenly grow another couple of monster strength arms.

"My master wishes to speak with you both," he said hoarsely, indicating that they should follow him.

Buffy furrowed her brow, glancing over at Faith to make sure she was paying attention. "And who's your master," she asked turning back to him, trying to figure out where his thick European accent was from.

"The Lord of the Valley," he said, grinning a toothless grin. "He can help you get home."

Faith made a doubtful noise, but Buffy wasn't going to discount the claim quite so readily. Not after what the haunted looking English girl had told them. Not when she knew that places like this always had a head honcho who wanted something in return for some kind of assistance or request.

"Ok," Buffy nodded, not asking Faith's opinion as it really didn't count when it came to slayer-sized decisions.

"B," Faith said, moving a little in front of Buffy before she went ahead and followed the little fellow. "You sure we should go? I mean, we don't know what we're headed into."

Faith had never been the sit-around-and-wait kind of girl, but lately. . .she had decided that "Wait. Stop. Think." was a good rule of thumb to go by. It surprised her, unnerved her and encouraged her all at once.

"We're going, Faith. We have no other choices here," Buffy pointed out. "Plus, we have super powers and demons are our bread and butter. . .whatever that means. The point is, we'll handle whatever we find, because we have no choice. Now stop fidgeting with your jacket and come on." Buffy tugged at Faith's wrist, pulling her with her as she followed the quickly vanishing old man.

Faith stumbled behind, tripping over her own boots as Buffy's hand slipped into hers from her wrist. For a brief moment that they both seemed to clutch onto for as long as possible, they were holding hands. . .deep in a dank and threatening jungle, in a world they knew nothing about, having feelings they both knew they would finally have to deal with sooner or later.

Feelings being exposed. Secrets laid bare. Wounds waiting to be healed.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

"I am Garashk, and this is my world," a booming voice declared, as Buffy and Faith were lead into a large clearing in the middle of the heady jungle.

Buffy looked around at the rotting vegetation, and the dry and shrivelled leaves that lead to a stone altar where a large red demon sat. She raised her eyebrow. "Your world huh? I like what you've done with the place, though it could use a few pillows and maybe some drapes," she said, refusing to be intimidated by a big voice and some over-grown monster muscles.

Faith scratched the back of her head in her usual manner when she became uncomfortable, stifling a chuckle as Buffy crossed her arms as she stopped in front of the demon. She had always admired Buffy's balls. No matter what they'd been through, or what they were destined to go through, Faith had to admit that Buffy was great at making the bad guys feel very small. It still made her proud to be standing by her side, no matter what scars she bore. No matter what scars they both had caused.

"You're the slayers," Garashk said, ignoring Buffy's comment. "We've been expecting you for some time." He got up from his throne at the altar, standing tall and imposing as he looked down on them both.

His skin was almost translucent. The red colour actually a sea of blood flowing under the surface, ebbing and flowing as he moved towards them. Faith had the good grace to wonder how the hell they could take him down if they needed. She was guessing he was pretty strong, though everything had a weakness. They all had their weakness somewhere.

She glanced over at Buffy, noticing how Buffy was sizing him up. She watched her green eyes take in the bulging muscle and the slow but heavy foot falls as he approached. Buffy didn't look too worried, but that was no indication of what she was actually thinking.

She was a pro at masking her feelings when she was being the slayer.

"If you were expecting us, why did you leave us to walk all that way? Surely, a guy of your position could have sent a car," Buffy quipped, walking towards the demon, checking out the area without being too obvious about it.

She wasn't about to trust a giant walking blood bank. If he knew who they were then he knew what they could do if they wanted. It was doubtful that he would lay himself open to attack. There had to be others around somewhere. Buffy couldn't see past the darkness of the jungle that circled them, however.

"You're safe here," Garashk said, his face contorting into what could only be described as an attempt at smiling. "The sounds you heard in the jungle, they are broken men, and no threat to you. Lost their minds and their will long ago."

Faith glanced back towards the path they had entered from, wondering why she hadn't guessed that the sounds she thought were animals were actually something else entirely. Probably people in need of help, or even people or demons that could have been a threat. She shook her head, cursing herself for being so preoccupied with what was going on between her and Buffy. They could have been ambushed at any time.

Garashk chuckled gruffly and stepped closer to Faith. He lifted his hand up to touch her face with his large fingers. As she flinched away and as Buffy made a movement suggesting she was about to pounce on him, he decided it was in his best interests not to touch.

"You were never truly in danger, pretty one," he said to Faith. "Certainly not from me, or the wandering souls that I rule." He turned back towards Buffy, making sure he had both their undivided attention. "There is one that would see you perish here, though. One that I need help with before I can free you."

"Sure, there's always a catch," Buffy said, rolling her eyes a little as she moved nearer to Faith, standing by her side so it appeared like they would be much harder to take on if they were together.

Together. It was a word Buffy could barely bring herself to use concerning Faith. Too much water under the bridge. Too much of everything that had always caused her mind to become some kind of spinning top that just wouldn't stop spinning.

The demon's smile quickly changed and he raised his voice to a growl that shook the tops of the trees and pushed a rush of adrenaline through both slayers. "You would be wise to take me seriously. This woman has the power to crush your will and grind your soul into dust, and she wants you both gone from here. She knows how much of a threat you are. You're lucky you came to me first, so we can come up with some kind of deal for you to. . .take her out of the picture," he said, pounding his fist on the arm of his throne as he circled it.

Faith glanced over at Buffy and caught her eye. She wasn't believing a word the demon was saying, but Buffy said nothing to her, and didn't indicate if she was buying it or not.

"How do we know you're telling the truth?" Buffy asked, pulling her eyes away from Faith and back to Garashk.

"You don't," he admitted, "but I can show you this." He drew a circle in the air with his hefty hand and motioned for the slayers to watch.

Before their eyes an image of Giles' apartment appeared. Buffy stood forwards for a better view, leaving Faith to linger behind her, watching her back and making sure she could grab onto Buffy and pull her out of there if she needed. They could both see Giles pacing as Willow lit candles and chatted to Xander.

Buffy reached out, wanting to dive into the picture and be safe. She felt Faith close behind her and sensed something deep within telling her she would grab onto Faith and pull her to safety too. . .despite how much she tried to refuse that she would. It seemed Faith was crawling under her skin again. Invading her in ways she didn't want.

"Not so fast," the demon grinned. "It doesn't work like that. The only way I can send you back through, to your home. . .is if you kill the old woman. She holds the key, not I. If you get it from her I can free you and take my rightful place as sole ruler here."

"You want us to kill an old woman?" Faith questioned, raising her eyebrows. She didn't like the sound of that one bit. It all just seemed a little too unreal.

Buffy turned her body so she was facing Faith, though her eyes were fixed on Garashk. Faith noted the show of unity, but didn't place too much hope in it. She'd been down that road before and been burned in the process.

"She may appear as an old woman but she is so much more than that," Garashk pointed out, sitting back on his throne, looking down on the two diminutive girls. "Do not be fooled by appearance, she will be your downfall if you fail to end her rule and help me reclaim my world."

Faith furrowed her brow and waited for Buffy to tell him to get lost. She was positive he was lying through his nasty looking teeth.

"So," Buffy began as she paced a little in front of Faith, "where do we find her?" she asked.

Garashk smiled broadly, gripping the stone arms of his throne. "You've made a wise decision, slayer. I will show you where you need to go, and then it is up to you to take hold of your destiny. Both of your destinies," he nodded towards Faith.

Buffy glanced over at Faith and could see the disapproving look in her dark eyes. Any hope of getting home was something that had to be physically investigated, so whether Faith agreed or not, they were going to find the person Garashk was talking about. Buffy had to look down each avenue. She had to explore everything before choosing her side. She wasn't a woman of faith. . .so to speak.

She needed to get to grips with her choices, even though she wasn't keen on appearing like she was happy to walk into dangerous situations without so much as a glance over the wall to see what they were landing in. She was no longer happy to sit around talking and researching, she was a slayer, and slayers acted. . .they didn't run, or wait around to be bailed out.

She looked again at Faith, recalling the night Faith had jumped down a manhole expecting her to follow without question. Buffy had had questions back then. She'd had questions for everything, especially about Faith, though they had been intensely personal questions. She was expecting Faith to follow now, switching their roles as she became driven to follow her slayer instincts.

Faith said nothing, watching as Buffy walked away a little as she talked to the demon about where to find the woman and how to kill her. She didn't like what was happening. She didn't like the way Buffy seemed to be compelled to walk them from one iffy situation to another. She could see how Buffy had changed since their first time slaying together. She could see cracks and tears in Buffy's structure.

It saddened Faith, as she knew she'd had a big hand in those cracks. She had pushed Buffy to her limits and it seemed like Buffy had forgotten how to get back.

Faith looked down to her hands as she leaned against the hard rock of the demon's altar. Her hands had been the cause of so much grief. They had manipulated and moulded, and betrayed her. She clenched her fists as a sharp pain hit her side. The remnants of Faith's scar reminding her who she was and what she had done. What Buffy had done to stop her.

Buffy whipped round to face Faith, clutching at her stomach, agony etched on her brow. Her green eyes locked onto Faith's as they shared the moment of pain.

Faith looked at Buffy through teary eyes as she fought to regain composure. As she fought not to experience wonder at why Buffy could also feel her pain. She gripped the stone behind her and slammed her eyelids shut, blocking Buffy out as she felt the memory of a knife slip from her gut. She didn't want Buffy to feel it. It was her penance for all the wrongs she could never put right. Her judgment for causing Buffy to become so lost in hate.

"Do not be distracted by your lover, slayer," Garashk said to Buffy quietly, ensuring Faith wouldn't hear.

"What?" Buffy asked, utterly shocked by his choice of words. "What makes you think…"

"I'm sorry if I spoke out of turn," he interrupted, "I must have misread the situation."

"There is no situation," Buffy clarified vehemently, her voice a little shaky as her heart pounded in her ears.

She couldn't believe he would come to such a conclusion. She wondered what she'd done or said to indicate that her and Faith were together in such a way. In any way at all. In any way that wasn't mortal enemies. . .despite what had happened when their dream had been corrupted.

"I sense Faith is your weakness, I apologise," Garashk explained, pulling Buffy into his plot, hoping she would take the bait.

He did indeed sense that Faith was Buffy's weakness. Faith would drive Buffy to do his bidding. Buffy would do it out of anger and bitterness in her attempt to rid herself of Faith's grasp. To prove to Faith once and for all that she was always right. That she was finally free of Faith.

He knew different. He knew how deep inside Buffy Faith was. She would never be free, and he was about to be handed the world on a plate because of that.

*****

Willow measured out a circle precisely, showering a fine white powder around its perimeter. Giles was sure the mix of potions was correct, and they all hoped he was right as it was to ensure the girls' safety as they travelled back to them through the rift.

They were certain they had found the right one. A distant band of energy that they would have to focus on and work their magic through if they had any chance of saving the slayers. Though the risks were still great, the team had looked into every possibility to make the spell as safe as they could. They had charms and candles and powders and ancient words to speak. And they had Willow and Tara's power.

They were hopeful for success. They had to be.

"Are we all sure of our parts and which phrases go in which order?" Giles asked as he rolled up his sleeves and placed charms around the large circle Willow had created.

"Yep, I have no clue what I'm saying but I know when to say it," Xander confirmed, looking pleased with himself.

"Then let's begin," Giles nodded, taking his place beside the young boy.

Willow stepped to one side of the circle as Tara moved to the other. They held hands across the gap and closed their eyes. After a few minutes, the white chalk circle marking Giles' carpet glowed red as he began to recite ancient text from one of his most precious magic books.

The room around them fell into darkness and the circle became the only light they could see. It cast a red haze over their faces and Xander's hands began to shake a little. He had never been keen on the whole magic thing. The potential of being turned into a frog or something similar was just too potent.

He had thought about opting out and watching from the sidelines, but Willow had reminded him that Buffy's life was in their hands. He couldn't allow a little fear of being fried by magic put him off doing his best for Buffy. After all, she had always been there for him, so now it was his turn to repay the favour.

He waited for Giles to stop chanting and said his lines, speaking in a language he had no hope to understand. The room began to shake, but they all held fast. The magic was strong and it was flowing right out of the two witches and into the swirling portal that had formed between them.

*****

Faith walked slowly behind Buffy, wishing there was something she could say that would break the silence without it causing more friction. She had tried to tell Buffy how unhappy she was about going along with Garashk's request, but Buffy had merely told her to stay away if she didn't want to come. Faith wasn't about to let Buffy wander off back into the desert alone, however.

She trailed behind, watching the confident stride Buffy took them forwards with. She was a girl on a mission, and Faith was sure it was the wrong mission. She hadn't read the slayer handbook, but she was pretty sure that somewhere within. . .it would say something about not taking the word of big, translucent, blood engorged demons.

"I can hear you sighing, Faith," Buffy said over her shoulder. "If you don't want to be part of this then go sit on that rock over there, because we're almost where he said she'd be."

Faith shook her head and said nothing, quickening her pace to catch up with Buffy. She watched Buffy out of the corner of her eye as they slowed to a stop, turning in a circle to scan the area and witness the heat waves flowing like fluid up to the sky from the hot ground beneath.

She rubbed the back of her neck, hearing nothing but Buffy's breathing. Feeling nothing but Buffy's breathing as they waited. She squinted up at the sun, still surprised by how much light came from something seemingly so dull, ruby red and beating down on them in the choked atmosphere.

There was so much she wanted to say to Buffy. Wished she could say. Wished she knew how to express. A hundred lives had passed them by, leaving them nothing but pain. Hope, turning to pain and all the hazy areas in-between that neither of them knew how to deal with. So much flowing between them unspoken. Misunderstood. Missed.

Buffy took a steady breath and glanced over to Faith as she looked up at the sun. She noted the soft tumble of Faith's hair as it rolled over her shoulders. The hard curve of her jaw. The tension. The fire that bubbled underneath her apparent serenity.

"Why won't you trust that I know what I'm doing?" Buffy asked, not wanting validation but finding the words on her lips anyway. "This could be our only way home."

Faith's eyes rested on Buffy. Faith looked tired. She was tired. She just wanted to do her time with Giles and learn to be a better slayer. A better person. She wasn't ready for Buffy, or for dealing with how much Buffy could mess with her mind. It wore her out. The constant back and forth. Green light and red light. The fighting then the moments of apparent tenderness. Buffy couldn't seem to come to any kind of solid conclusion about her, and Faith was exhausted with it.

She shrugged and answered Buffy finally. "It just doesn't feel right," Faith told her.

Buffy could see the defeat that Faith carried around with her. She remembered how Faith had been. . .full of life, full of excitement at just being alive, being a slayer. Being in Sunnydale with her. She looked down sadly, the lead ball of their past weighing her down. Faith by far had been the most confusing person Buffy had ever known. She had a way of making Buffy feel like she should be on the defensive all the time.

Buffy had tried to understand her. She had tried to understand herself and her response to Faith, but the spinning wouldn't stop. What she thought she knew, often seemed to be completely wrong, and she hated being wrong.

Buffy recalled what Garashk had said about them earlier, pushing it from her head before it had time to linger and make her question everything about Faith again. "Since when did you have feelings, Faith?" Buffy jibed, turning away to make it clear she wasn't expecting an answer. Her defences back as her mind whirled with past memories. Faith couldn't feel. . .otherwise she would never have hurt her the way she had.

Faith shook her head, letting out a quiet, exasperated sigh. It was just like Buffy to try to make her believe she was less of a person. Like she was subnormal, or at least. . .not up to Buffy-standards. She had an idea why, but it was still infuriating. She wanted to grab Buffy and shake her. Shake her eyes open. Shake her into seeing what they had been, and what they were. But it wouldn't help.

Buffy would have to be willing for them to talk, and that didn't look like it was going to happen anytime soon. At least not without an argument, which would probably do more damage than good at this point.

Faith decided it was time she walked away and left Buffy to her demons; inside and out. She had enough of her own to deal with. As she took a step to leave, a blast of light behind her made her twist until she was squinting into a glowing sphere just ahead of them.

It took shape and form, and as the two slayers moved closer together in a silent, and deeply inherent act of solidarity, a frail looking old woman stepped from the remnants of pure white light.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

"For girls so young, you both hold so much pain inside," the old woman said, speaking softly as the light evaporated behind her.

Buffy looked her over. She was small and frail looking, and her hair was grey; tied in a tight bun on her head like somebody's grandmother, or just any normal little old lady. She looked unremarkable. Buffy didn't know what she was expecting, but it wasn't this.

Buffy glanced at Faith, noting the twitching muscles in her arms as she stood by her, waiting for Buffy to make some kind of move. Of course, she wasn't about to just jump on the old woman out of nowhere. Buffy wanted to hear what she said first, though her first words hadn't put her in a comfortable place.

"Who are you?" Buffy asked, unsure about what she should be asking in order to ensure their safety.

"The question isn't who I am, but who you are," the old woman said, smiling sweetly; her eyes squeezing into little points of sparkling grey.

Buffy furrowed her brow. "I know who I am," she assured, feeling Faith all kinds of tense beside her.

It made her want to move away. To be anywhere but near Faith when she was charged up that way. She could feel prickles rampaging up and down her left side, closest to Faith. It itched. It burned. Buffy wanted to strip out of her skin and crawl away from the feeling. She always did with Faith. She didn't want to be attached to the feel of Faith. To the way she affected her.

"I'm not so sure you really do know who you are. Or who your friend is," the old lady said as she tilted her head slightly and looked at them intently. "You're both more, and less than you can see. You're both complete, and empty, and nothing yet everything to each other."

"What the hell are you going on about?" Buffy asked. She'd had enough of riddles.

She moved closer to the woman, feeling Faith's eyes burning into her back. Shrugging off the feeling, Buffy stopped an arms length away, in case she had to reach out and stop the old lady from running, or. . .anything else that meant she would escape them and keep them trapped there.

Faith readied herself to take Buffy down, feeling incredibly uneasy about how Buffy was eyeing the old woman up like she was some kind of threat. Faith was used to non-threatening things turning around and biting her in the ass. . .but something about the woman made her feel at ease. She was positive she wasn't going to hurt them. And she was positive that the old woman was their only chance to get back home.

Faith knew it wasn't something they would achieve by murder, however. There had been too much murder in her short life. She wasn't going to be part of this one. Faith had a sense that their hope lay with the lady as she continued to smile gently at them. Faith just wished Buffy could feel it too. She wished Buffy could feel a lot of things.

"Such sadness inside you," the woman said, her eyes resting on Faith. "So much guilt inside, but you should let it go, my dear. Your soul has not been judged, it is Buffy's guilt that brought you here."

Buffy's eyes went wide and Faith furrowed her brow deeply, trying to understand what she had meant.

"Wait," Buffy said loudly, raising her hands to halt the conversation. "I say again. . .what the hell are you going on about? I don't feel guilty about anything," Buffy assured.

Faith watched Buffy intently, noticing how wound up she was getting. Her voice becoming trill and her green eyes darkening as she struggled to comprehend what the old lady was saying to them. Faith wasn't sure what she meant herself. She did hold a lot of guilt inside. For the deaths she'd caused and for the damage she'd done; hurting people she had never wanted to hurt. Her soul was blighted with the dark stain of regret.

"You're free to tell yourself that as much and as often as you can, dear, but I feel your pain, and I feel your guilt. How it hangs around your heart. Your crime brought you into this world and it will hold you forever," the woman said, still speaking softly, though her words were dripping with venom as far as Buffy was concerned.

Faith ran a hand through her hair, processing what had just been said. Why was she talking about Buffy's `crime'? As far as Faith knew Buffy was the model citizen. The model slayer. If she was grasping it right then apparently they were there because of something bad that Buffy had done.

"Hey, lady. . .I think you got it wrong," Faith chimed in, moving closer to Buffy and feeling the need to protect her. "I'm the killer here, not Buffy. She didn't. . ."

"Faith, you're heavy with regret, but it is Buffy who feels her self drowning in it. Choking on what she did. What she believed was the only thing left to do," the old lady said, soft grey eyes looking into Faith. "You call yourself a killer, when you were only ever a pawn of something greater than yourself. A mistake, followed by another that you had no control over. Those are not judged upon as you were not the one truly wielding the weapons."

Faith didn't know what to say. She felt her mind racing, trying to find the words to prove she was bad, and that it was all her doing. That she had no excuse other than the fact she had always been weak. Before she could speak, she heard laughter. Buffy was shaking her head and laughing.

"So she gets to kill people and everything's ok?" Buffy snapped.

"No, she will never be ok, and neither will you, not unless you heal. This place isn't for you. You were pulled here when you touched the book, because of each other, and you can only leave because of each other. I cannot fix this if that's what you came for," the woman said, shaking her head sadly. "I can tell you only that when you plunged the knife into Faith you damaged both of you. You blackened your soul with the crime."

Buffy looked down momentarily, her skin growing pale and her eyes holding onto a blink before she opened them once more. Faith didn't know what to do. She was reeling from the words. She was numb.

"I did what I had to," Buffy said, her voice cracking as she looked through a rising haze of bitterness. "She was. . .there was no other way."

Faith was almost certain she'd heard a soft sob coming from Buffy, but the blonde slayer clenched her jaw tight and held up her head higher as she regained composure. Faith rubbed her brow, wanting to be anywhere but there. The day was growing colder and the ache in her heart was growing stronger. She couldn't take much more of this. Of Buffy.

"If it was Buffy that got pulled here because of what you say she did," Faith said, making sure it didn't sound like she was accusing Buffy of anything, mainly because she was sure Buffy had only ever done the right thing, "then why am I here? I didn't touch anything."

Buffy glanced over at Faith, throwing imaginary daggers her way. Buffy was certain it wasn't her fault. She hadn't done anything wrong. . .or at least that's the conclusion that got her through each day. Somewhere deep down she was aware that the reality was a little different. Somewhere within herself she really was drowning, and she couldn't deal with thinking about it, never mind feeling it.

The old woman looked from Buffy to Faith, her eyes sad, but a small smile lifting her thin lips. "You share a past, and a future. You share more than you'll ever know if you don't allow yourselves the chance to heal," she explained, catching both their eyes in the hope they would truly listen. "The deep scars you inflicted on each other's hearts, and on your souls go deep enough to bind you, but their depths are nothing compared to the depths to come. Heal the scars and you shall be free."

Buffy felt her blood boiling. She wasn't bound to Faith. The thought disgusted her. It cut her like a knife. Like a twisting knife in her side; sharp and deep and never ending. She didn't want to hear it. She didn't believe it. If she allowed herself to, then everything she had pushed under, everything she had forced herself to ignore and not to question would be unavoidable. She would be required to examine it and look into her heart and the pain that was in there. Buffy would have to admit why the pain was so severe. And she couldn't.

"You don't know what you're talking about," Buffy snarled.

She didn't give the old woman a chance to speak further. Buffy's muscles tightened and she lunged. She pushed her hands out in front of herself, hoping to grab onto the woman to bring her down and end the flow of lies, but as a flash of light temporarily blinded her she felt the air rush from her lungs. Buffy hit the ground with a thud.

Faith had anticipated Buffy's attack, rushing towards her and grasping her around the stomach to pull her away and down to the floor. They both exhaled violently as they crashed into a heap. The air around them cracked as the light imploded, leaving nothing but space where the old woman had been.

She was gone. Her words still hanging in the heavy atmosphere.

"Why did you do that?" Buffy yelled, untangling herself from Faith. She sat in the red dust, her mind in tatters and her heart racing.

"I couldn't let you kill her, B. It was wrong," Faith yelled back, getting to her feet and brushing off her pants.

"What do you know about wrong? You're like. . .incapable of doing anything that isn't wrong," Buffy cut back, her words slicing Faith just as deep as any knife.

Faith turned her back, feeling her insides shake. Her lungs screaming for air as the atmosphere became murky and grew heavy and humid. Tears pricked her eyes and she swallowed them down. It hurt. It hurt so much for Buffy to hate her, but she knew it was her own doing. Each stab. Each word that pierced deeper than any wound. . .cut hard into her soul. The old woman had been right.

"We had to kill her to get out of here, and now she's fucking gone," Buffy shouted, pushing up to stand behind Faith. Close. Too close because now she could feel Faith burning her skin again. She could sense Faith shaking and churning inside, just like she was.

"Are you crazy, B? You were gonna trust that demon about this?" Faith said, trying to bite back her anger and her disappointment as she turned back to Buffy. "The guy is all red and blood-like and she steps out of pure white light and you think she's the bad guy? Gimme a break," Faith scoffed, shaking her head, wanting to be far away from the situation.

"You're the crazy slayer, Faith. Don't get that confused." Buffy felt the words fly from her mouth before she could stop them.

She didn't know why she would have wanted to stop them. It was true, she thought Faith was crazy. Or had. Or could have been. She didn't know. Didn't know her own mind it seemed. Didn't know what she felt. What was really the truth. Buffy didn't want to believe anything the old woman had said as it hit too close to something that frightened her.

What she had done to Faith frightened her. The act. The knowing Faith could have died. Would have died if it had been a little further to the left, or a little higher. Her mind flashed back to that night; plunging the knife into Faith, looking into Faith's dark and scared eyes and just wanting to hold on. Just wanting to hold onto Faith and make it all right. Fix it. Fix them and everything that had gone wrong.

Losing Faith had hit her heart like a bullet; ripping its way through her. And Buffy couldn't explain why as she'd avoided ever thinking about the why. She just knew it had hurt, it still did and she couldn't deal with it. With the implications she had evaded so well.

It wasn't about being a victim. It wasn't about Angel or Riley. It wasn't about some kind of slayer code or anything else that covered the reality. It was underneath all the excuses. It was thick and sticky and threatened to trap Buffy within it, making her lose herself. She was scared, so scared of losing herself to Faith.

It had taken all her courage to fight what Faith made her feel, and it had made the darkness within take hold on that night, and on many other nights since. Buffy hated herself for it, but she hated Faith more for it. She was sure.

Faith said nothing back to Buffy. She had no words. Her soul throbbed inside her as she watched Buffy's eyes. As she tried to understand the other slayer and what they really meant to each other. She was certain now that they did mean something to each other. The old lady had said it, and Faith felt it. She was sure she could see it within Buffy too. In her eyes. The eyes that Faith always saw when she closed her own.

They stood in silence, a sense of calm covering them finally as the wind picked up around them, swirling patterns of dust at their feet. The calm didn't last as rain broke from the sky above and released its cleansing torrent upon them. Faith looked up and watched the darkness descend.

A searing flash of lightning struck too close for comfort and Buffy yelped and leapt forwards, away from its prickling heat. She landed in Faith's arms.

"Urgh," Buffy groaned loudly, revulsion dripping from her lips. She let go of Faith quicker than something that would have scorched her.

Faith narrowed her eyes as Buffy jumped back from her. She couldn't take it anymore. Not when there was so much inside of her wanting to get out. Not when Buffy had it all inside her too.

"What? I'm only good enough to be close to in your dreams?" Faith said accusingly, raising her voice above the sound of rain.

Buffy blinked; drops of water already tumbling from her hair and into her eyes as she glared at Faith, knowing exactly what she was getting at. She didn't want to be reminded, because she couldn't believe she'd done it. Not only that. . .but Buffy couldn't fight back the twinge in her heart at the thought of what had happened.

"They're just dreams," Buffy yelled, wishing she could avoid the conversation and the accusing look coming from Faith. Wishing it had just been a dream.

"Not the last one, B" Faith said, glancing down to the floor, a puddle at her feet, reflecting her sad stare. "That one felt pretty real to me."

"It wasn't," Buffy shot back, not giving in. Not relenting to what was obviously happening between them, and what had always been waiting to crest.

"Are you sure?" Faith asked, looking right into Buffy's eyes, her anger bubbling over. "It felt real when I was coming all over your fingers with your tongue in my mouth."

The slap came out of nowhere; too quick for Faith to duck away from. Buffy hadn't used her full strength, but the sting was raw, reddening Faith's cheek. She lifted her hand up to the mark and looked at Buffy through the rain that trickled from her brow. They stood silent for what seemed like an eternity as the heat from their bodies filled the air with steam.

"I didn't mean for that to happen," Buffy said quietly. "The dream, not the slap," she clarified, willing the images of that night from her head.

Faith let out a short laugh, dropping her hand and shaking her head as her eyes bored into Buffy. "It felt like you meant it," she said, recalling Buffy's fingers teasing her clit as she came. The sensation. The care and the soft nurturing.

Buffy watched the red hand mark on Faith's cheek slowly fade as her words drove into her, tunnelling through her resolve and her defences. Slow tears began to mingle with the rain water as she dug deep inside for her cold resistance. It hadn't failed Buffy often, but it was nowhere to be found now. . .when she needed it most.

"It wasn't meant to happen," Buffy mumbled.

"But it did, and it wasn't a dream," Faith said, speaking softly but knowing Buffy could hear her above the downpour and the thunder.

Faith stepped closer, watching Buffy's world whipping out from beneath her feet, leaving her unsteady and falling. She could see they had reached some kind of apex. A point where the path divided; one of hope, and one of darkness.

Buffy swallowed hard, but the tears wouldn't stop. She hated that she couldn't stop. Her depths were being exposed on every drop of salt and she was terrified. She always had been. Faith was a whirlpool of wonder and possible pleasures and pain, and she couldn't step into it. She daren't step into it and lose her control. Not without a fight. A fight often to the death.

"I don't know what to say," Buffy revealed, her voice almost lost; fragile as the words left her lips. "I don't know what you want from me."

The thunder rolled closer, almost shaking the ground as Faith watched every tear plummet from Buffy's cheeks. Picking them out amongst the rivulets of rain, as if they were lines of text written on a quivering page.

"I just want the truth for once, B," Faith confessed, knowing her plea was probably far too much to ask for. A price too large would have to be paid, and she doubted Buffy could ever reveal the truth even to herself. She continued, pushing past Buffy's walls. "I just want you to stop keeping me on the outside when you know I'm in there," she said, lifting her hand and pointing to Buffy's chest.

A sob tore through Buffy's control. Her heart split open to reveal the scared girl inside and she trembled to the ground. Buffy's hands landed in the wet dirt at her feet as she sank to her knees, feeling her strength ripped from her with Faith's words. With her uncloaking finger that had accused her heart of things she couldn't bear to look at, but knew she felt.

Her tears flowed fast and heavy with regret and hurt. Clinging to the safety of defiance but failing as Faith scooped her into her strong arms as she fell to the ground in front of her. Buffy struggled momentarily, no force behind her pushes as Faith held tight as they knelt facing each other. Buffy wanted to tell Faith to leave her, but her arms relented, treacherously wrapping around Faith's neck and holding on, as she wept for every day of denial she'd lived since Faith had placed a burning ember in her heart.

Buffy felt it all wash through her. All the nights she'd cried herself to sleep, whispering to herself that she couldn't want a girl. Couldn't be falling for a girl. That Faith was nothing more than a distraction. A dangerous temptation she couldn't touch. How it had hurt and burned every time Faith had looked at her and spoken to depths within her that were forbidden. She had wanted to reach out to Faith, but every time she had willed herself to try, something or somebody had been there to screw it up, until Faith took them down a disastrous path and defected to the mayor.

It had been lost then. Her chances gone. Her fantasies growing dark and painful and crushing her soul. Buffy had been too scared to jump into the fire and show Faith her heart, and then it had been too late. It had felt like every step since was just another piece breaking, until it lay shattered in her chest, beating dull and lost without Faith to give it life.

Buffy finally let go.

Sobs flowed over Faith and she clung to Buffy, letting her pour out her pain as she mumbled incoherently into Faith's neck. The words were unclear, but Faith knew what Buffy was saying. She felt it within every bone, every muscle and every pump of blood through her heart. She sensed the regret and the anguish. The need to grip to control in the fear of losing something you didn't think you could live without. But Faith had lived without her heart for a long time. It had been Buffy's from the start. It was so clear to her now, and she knew Buffy was coming to the same conclusion.

"Shh!" Faith said quietly, trying to calm Buffy.

She brushed dripping blonde hair from Buffy's brow and face as Buffy looked up at her through tear stained eyes. Faith watched her own tears silently drop onto Buffy as she looked down on her, Buffy's face cradled in her hands. Their eyes spoke whole sentences they couldn't find the words for, and as the rain swathed them in penetrating water, soaking them to the skin, their mouths crashed together.

Wet lips sliding and tasting and taking; Faith held Buffy's face softly and kissed her fully and deeply as Buffy responded in kind. The tears flowed from them both as they drank each other down.

The lightning cracked above and the ground became a wash of drowning dirt, their clothes drenched through as each piece clung to their bodies, as they clung to each other.

Their lips anchoring them to one another in a stormy sea of emotions.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

Dedication: For Electra. Always.

A rush of wind blew through the two slayers as they kissed deeply. As they felt themselves plummeting into each other; letting go of the safe ground they had stood firm on. Buffy broke away to catch her breath and still her heart. She looked up into Faith's dark and intense eyes, and stopped herself from looking away as she would normally do. Her hand moved to touch Faith's soft cheek, holding it gently as she allowed herself to feel. To feel with her whole heart the compelling desire and adoration she could sense coming from the girl before her.

Fighting back the urge to push it away this time, Buffy instead allowed it to seep into her, through her wet skin, through her bones, into the deepest parts of her. She felt more tears spring to her eyes as it swept her up. As the love she felt was finally allowed to break free and fly with Faith.

Gazing at Faith as the rain ran over her skin, Buffy brushed her thumb over the soft bristle of an eyebrow. She half sobbed and half laughed, the mix of emotions inside her throwing her into a spin. It was too much and not enough. Never enough. She had always wanted so much from Faith, though doubted its truth which caused her to ignore it. She had doubted Faith and her ability to give, so had pushed Faith into proving her right.

But she hadn't been right. Buffy could see it now. She could feel it all over.

Faith rested her hands on Buffy's shoulders, her lips tingling from their kiss. Every inch of her hoping Buffy wouldn't run. Faith had stopped running herself. She knew what she wanted and knew what she needed. It was palpable. She needed Buffy to love her the way she loved Buffy. She'd never said the words to herself before; never dared think of them or dwell on the feeling for fear of being abandoned because of it. Faith hadn't trusted her heart and its decision to crave Buffy, but she couldn't deny it now. She couldn't fear now; the time for being afraid had long since passed.

Faith closed her eyes as Buffy whispered her thumb over her eyebrow, swooning under the soft caress, but she opened them suddenly as a loud crash angered the air beside them. They both looked to the right and almost fell back as they saw what appeared to be the hulking cliff that they had begun their journey from.

It had risen out of nowhere.

"What the fuck?" Faith gasped, noticing the dry cave not far from them.

Buffy jumped as lightning struck too close for comfort. She didn't like feeling as if they were being lead into a trap, but they had to get out of the storm. She looked from the imposing cliff face towards Faith, and Faith it seemed was thinking along the same lines.

"Come on," Faith instructed, getting to her feet and holding out her hand for Buffy.

Buffy took it, and set off running the short distance with Faith. She kept a grip of Faith's hand, not willing to let go now she had finally given herself permission to touch and hold. She wouldn't let go, and she wanted more.

As soon as they entered the small cave Buffy freed herself from the restraints she had been buckling under. She whirled Faith to face her and brought their lips together, greedily kissing and sucking as Faith pulled her close. Buffy wanted to taste every taste, treasure every stroke of Faith's tongue and nibble of her teeth. She had denied this for so long, and her desire was running amok through her veins.

Buffy pushed Faith up against the nearest wall, keeping their lips firmly pressed together as her tongue slipped over Faith's. She moaned as Faith delved deeper, hungrily exploring her mouth as she wrapped her arms around her waist. Buffy felt herself melt into every curve of the other girl, needing the contact. She pushed her hand under the soggy cloth covering Faith's stomach and her fingers burned with the sensation of silk warm skin on them.

She wanted Faith. No doubt about it, she desired her lustfully, and as Faith slipped her hands to the small of Buffy's back, under her shirt. . .she knew it was ok. Buffy knew they could take from each other unconditionally. They could cling and crave and give into each other; take and give back. She stepped into the whirlpool.

Buffy bit gently on Faith's fleshy bottom lip, earning her a groan that stirred the fire within her even more. She slid her hand further under Faith's top, wanting to know her flesh. She needed her skin. Without asking permission, sure that it wasn't necessary, Buffy began to tug on Faith's shirt. Pulling it up as it peeled its way from Faith, she broke their kiss. Buffy threw the garment to the floor beside them and buried her nose into the crook of Faith's neck, teasing and sucking with her lips.

Faith began to breathe heavily, her body pleading for Buffy's touch. She had yearned for it longer than she knew and she wasn't about to deter the inevitable now by asking if it was wise, or too rushed. She moaned deep in the back of her throat as she felt Buffy's tongue flick over her heated skin as she descended to her collar bone.

Faith wrapped her hands in Buffy's dripping hair, her chest heaving as Buffy reached around to unclasp her bra. Before she knew it, it joined her top on the floor and Buffy was kissing over her breasts; taking her time to cover every inch of the skin there, and driving Faith crazy with lust.

Buffy kissed her way to one of Faith's dusky nipples, loving the way she tasted. Her tongue mopping up the rain water from her skin as she went. She rested her hands on Faith's small hips and felt her own pussy growing wet as she placed her lips around an erect nipple and sucked.

She teased it with her lips and her tongue, her hand moving up to feel the fullness of the other breast within it. Squeezing as she sucked harder, hearing Faith almost whimper for her. Buffy didn't know what she was doing, she had never been with a girl, but it felt good. It felt right. Judging by Faith's rapid breathing she was working Faith up just as much as she was working herself up.

The night of their dream, Buffy hadn't been sure if it was real or not. The sensation of touching Faith so intimately and making her come overwhelmed her with a thirst for more. This time she knew it was for real, and she was going to savour every delicious second. Faith was a masterpiece of beauty to her, and she wanted to respect that in full. Buffy's long hidden and previously detested fantasies finally found absolution.

She caressed her way over Faith's chest, feeling the flutter of her heart against her lips, then moving on to tease and suck the other appetizingly hard nipple. Her hands moved down, sure in their quest. Faith's stomach muscles twitched and jumped at the touches, then she was finally at the barrier and unzipping Faith from her pants.

Faith groaned, closing her eyes and resting her head back against the cooling wall behind. She placed her hands on Buffy's shoulders, allowing the other girl complete control as she tormented Faith's skin with delicate hands. She licked her lips as fingers unzipped, and agonizingly slowly dipped into her pants.

Buffy pushed down and brushed her fingertips over Faith's already soaked panties; soaked with arousal more than rain water. She sighed heavily and leaned into Faith, delighting in the heat escaping from her as she brought their lips together again. She trailed her fingers enticingly over the fabric, feeling the slick patch of excitement growing damper. Faith kissed her open mouthed and wantonly. Her tongue playing with Buffy's provocatively; promising of things to come.

Buffy groaned at the thought and breathed hard with need.

She reclaimed her lips from Faith's, trailing wet kisses over her jaw and neck as she whispered, "I want you."

Buffy hadn't meant for her voice to shake, but it had. Breathing close to Faith, every inhalation making her wish she could smell her scent, Buffy found herself shaking with desire in a way she had never done before, alone or with another.

Faith replied by digging her short nails into Buffy's back and pressing her closer. She wanted Buffy's fingers to slip under the thin fabric. Needing her to touch her and to make her whole. She pushed against her hand, rolling her hips forward.

Buffy smiled blissfully into Faith's neck as she felt the soft swell of her heated pussy against her hand. She could spend an entire day just poised at this point; need and warmth enveloping them up and trapping them together as she stroked soft and teasing oaths of pleasure over Faith. Today wasn't the day for that, however, so Buffy removed her hand and began to tug Faith's pants and panties down. She wanted Faith naked for her. Stripped of everything so she could see the true Faith. The Faith she now knew she had always been in love with.

Faith stepped from her clothes, ready to give herself to Buffy unreservedly. This wasn't about control, or who went first, or who was on top. This was about something so deep within them both, something that they had overlooked it in the past, or chose not to see it. Now it was exposed and free.

Buffy threw the pants to the pile and stepped back between Faith's legs, her eyes devouring every inch of flesh on display. She bit her lip and felt her pupils expanding as she studied every mark and every muscle. Every plane and every curve. The need to tell Faith she was amazing stole the wind from her sails a little, but as Faith pulled her close she once again became swept up in her thirst to have her.

Not content on being the only one naked, needing to have Buffy in the same way, Faith took the opportunity to pull on Buffy's top. She added it, and the sodden bra to the pile.

They kissed again, devouring each other without haste. Seeking out one another's tongues as Faith swept her hands over Buffy's back, holding her close. Their skin scorched each other where it met, tantalizing and begging for more. Faith blazed a trail with her fingers over Buffy, urging her into the fire. She kissed her hard and spun them so Buffy now had her back to the harsh wall.

Buffy's hands came up between them, but she wasn't pushing Faith off, she was taking Faith's heavy breasts within them and toying exquisitely with her nipples. Fingers pinching and pulling as Faith moaned into Buffy's mouth. She could feel her arousal seeping unrestricted to the insides of her thighs, as her lips sucked and kissed down Buffy's neck.

Dreams and fantasies just didn't come close to the real thing. To the very real feeling of Buffy creating a ball of excited tension inside her, as they explored each other. Faith breathed hot air over Buffy's breast as she flicked her tongue out over the solid little nipple. Buffy moaned Faith's name quietly, and Faith closed her eyes and sucked on Buffy, thinking the moaning was the sexiest sound she had ever heard. She wanted to hear more.

Her fingers sought out Buffy's pants, undoing them with no objections. She tugged down and Buffy responded by helping, wiggling out of the wet material of her pants and panties and kicking them towards the other clothes.

Faith took no time to bring them both back together, closing the distance between them, and falling into a deep kiss. Buffy sighed as she felt Faith fully against her, for the first time not in battle. Her skin was flushed, heating Buffy up along with it as she wrapped around Faith, needing to feel her all over. Her pussy was poised over Faith's as the taller girl stooped a little to resume the breathtaking possession of her breasts.

Buffy moaned Faith's name again, unable to find any other word in her head as Faith pushed against her. She could feel Faith's dripping mound on her own now as they clung, naked and desperate for each other. It wasn't enough contact. Buffy wanted more. She pushed Faith backwards, stepping away from the cool chill of the wall, moving her mouth back to Faith's as she encouraged her to lie down. Faith didn't protest.

She lay back on the pile of damp clothes, bringing Buffy down with her into her arms, between her legs. They both sighed loudly as they made contact, quivering and quenching their thirst for one another.

"Buffy," Faith murmured into blonde hair as Buffy's pussy slipped languorously over her own.

Any other words were lost as she wrapped her arms around the girl above her and rocked her hips up for even more connection. Hot skin, soft and delicate. Powerful muscles, holding back yet holding on. She felt Buffy's warm breath on her neck as they moved together slowly. Buffy kissed her lightly over her skin and Faith brought her knees up, spreading herself for the other girl; craving to feel more as Buffy dripped into her.

They fell into an alluring rhythm as their bodies sought salvation. Faith's heart was beating like a drum into Buffy's, whisking her up into a maddening haze. Faith's body felt incredible underneath her. Every bit of Faith. Every movement and soft rake of nails across her back. Buffy could feel the slick evidence of Faith's need coating her with every push of her hips forwards. Lifting herself slightly, Buffy slipped her pussy fully over Faith's, bumping their clits together and causing them both to moan out into the echoey cavern.

She had never felt something so intimate; so sensual and seductive as their pussies stroked wetly over one another. Buffy could feel herself climbing the heights she knew Faith would take her to. Her clit was swollen and throbbing for Faith. Her pussy hot and dripping; more aroused than she'd ever been. She wasn't prepared for the avalanche of sensation she was being bombarded with, but it felt amazing.

Faith allowed one hand to glide down Buffy's back, delighting in the soft, slow movements of the other girl, yet desiring more. Faith had never been a slow kind of girl. She'd never known this. It felt like making love, and definitely not fucking. She had thought it would scare the hell out of her if that ever happened, but it wasn't scaring her. It was Buffy, and Faith adored every touch and kiss, and soft wet slip across her soaked pussy.

She scraped her nails across Buffy's firm backside and pushed up as Buffy pushed down, opening them both up for more as their slippery lips spread and oozed their juices all over one another.

"Oh, Faith," Buffy sighed breathlessly, pushing up a little to hover over Faith, leaving them still connected in all the right places.

Buffy felt overwhelmed. She was shaking inside and out, feeling Faith quivering just the same. She looked into Faith's eyes and felt safe for the first time in a long time. Heavy tears splashed down onto Faith and Buffy closed her eyes, willing them to stop. She hadn't meant to cry, but her heart was bursting.

A soft hand brushed over Buffy's cheek, fingers gently pushing back her damp hair as she tried to calm herself.

"B, no more crying," Faith said, almost whispering.

Buffy tried to find the words to put everything right. To turn back all that had gone before. All the bad. All the wrong and the stupid.

"I couldn't love you then," Buffy said shakily, almost too quiet to hear, not making complete sense even to herself. She knew what she meant, she knew what her heart was saying, but she couldn't form the words.

Faith felt her heart soaring with Buffy's words. She knew what they meant. She felt what they meant.

"Shh," Faith said softly. "No more pain."

Faith moved to the side and rolled Buffy under her, switching their positions so she could show Buffy how much she felt for her. She just knew it was the right thing to do. No more hurting and denying. No more holding back with fear, and regrets of the past.

She kissed Buffy fully. Sweeping her tongue into her mouth and receiving a soft groan of approval as she took over. She placed herself between Buffy's legs and brought them together again. Faith's soft breasts pushed into Buffy's as her wet pussy slotted back into its position over her. They gasped with the resumed contact and Faith rolled her hips forwards, spreading herself over Buffy's.

"Fuck," Faith sighed, unable to hold back her pleasure at having Buffy hot and moist all over her. "You feel so good."

Buffy smiled coyly, looking up into Faith's impossibly dark eyes and lifting a leg over the younger girl, effectively holding her closer. Faith leaned down, still holding herself up a little on her elbow, bringing their lips together in a long sensual kiss. Keeping Buffy distracted with her tongue, Faith moved a hand between them. She needed to touch.

Her fingers brushed over the short sliver of hair covering Buffy's mound and Buffy broke her mouth free from the kiss, she bit her lower lip as she waited for Faith to explore her and make her her own.

Buffy gasped slightly as Faith's fingers snuck into her pussy. She closed her eyes and gripped onto the girl above, feeling like it was the first touch she'd ever experienced. Faith gently pushed her fingers down, towards her dripping hole, slicking her fingers with the juices there before letting them explore around her clit.

Buffy shuddered and Faith breathed hard and fast, her heart pounding as she discovered parts of Buffy she thought she never would. Her fingers were coated in Buffy, touching her hard clit softly yet relentlessly.

"Oh, God," Buffy moaned in pleasure, feeling her body relinquishing to Faith. "Faith," she groaned, trying to catch her attention.

Faith continued to slip her fingers over Buffy; pressing a little harder as she became completely enthralled with the soft silky feeling of Buffy's swollen clit against her fingertips. She had never felt anything quite so erotic as the sensation of making Buffy quiver and moan for her as she stroked over her. It was intoxicating.

"Faith," Buffy said again, a little more clearly this time, though she was finding it incredibly difficult to find her voice under the deliciously delicate onslaught of her clit.

Buffy brought a hand up to Faith's face, coaxing the younger girl to focus on her as she fought with all her will not to shake.

"Faith, wait," she said softly, her breathing ragged and trembling.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Faith stilled her hand and looked deep into Buffy's green eyes. She was about to ask what was wrong, but Buffy answered her and reassured her right away.

"I wanna come with you, Faith," Buffy said shyly, looking away from the penetrating browns eyes above her. "If you keep doing that with your fingers I'm gonna be seeing stars without you." Buffy looked back into Faith's eyes and smiled a little, all the tension between them from the past a distant memory as they lay naked together in a shameless embrace.

Faith smiled and slowly removed her fingers from Buffy, gliding her hand over smooth skin until she settled back into her. They fit perfectly together, like a slayer jigsaw. She kissed Buffy softly; open mouthed kisses, teasing her tongue in and out. Buffy pulled her tighter against her, spreading her legs for Faith so she could feel every inch of her perfectly. Open for Faith. Only for Faith.

Faith began to move against Buffy once more, slipping back and forth so their clits bumped against each other, pushing harder into Buffy as they both began to breathe quicker and heavier.

Buffy arched up into Faith, feeling the slick salt of Faith's sweat glide across her stomach as they burned for each other. She moved her hands down to Faith's backside and pulled her hard against her.

"Fuck," Faith mumbled as she groaned loudly, grinding harder and faster into Buffy as fingernails dug into her rear.

Buffy gasped for air with every thrust and every slip across her clit. She kept one hand tight on Faith's firm backside and moved her other arm up, wrapping it around Faith, keeping them as close as possible. Her mind and body was a whirl of pleasure, every bit of her tuned into Faith and how good she felt; solid and sexual and a perfect fit for Buffy's body.

Their skin was slick with sweat, juices flowing between them as they claimed what was theirs. Every muscle working in unison. Every moan and groan speaking a thousand words they had never said to one another.

Buffy could feel herself falling as if off a huge cliff. Her body flying and her thoughts full of the girl causing her to soar. She was close, so close for Faith. Ready to give her everything. Everything they'd denied each other and themselves.

"Oh God," Buffy whimpered as she felt the torrent building within her. "Don't stop, Faith."

Faith licked the warm salt from Buffy's neck, kissing her there before lifting herself just enough to look down on Buffy. She kept her movements steady and speedy, slipping her pussy all over Buffy's as they both began to tremble. She had never seen Buffy looking so beautiful. Her blonde hair splayed out, damp and dishevelled. Green eyes half closed in apparent ecstasy. Buffy licked her lips and her stomach muscles stiffened against Faith's belly.

Thrusting over Buffy wildly, bodies entwined, enamoured, caught in a sensual dance; needing to fall over the edge with her, Faith felt them both trembling powerfully as they came. She rested her forehead against Buffy's, as their passion filled the cave with noise.

"Oh fuck, Buffy," Faith called out as her world tumbled and she clung to the girl beneath her. Buffy's name on her lips; crying it out into the shadows more than once.

Buffy gasped out loud, strangled "ohs" drifting from her lips as her arms claimed Faith and her pussy covered her in her come. She felt Faith dripping all over her too, hot and sweet and stickily delectable. She quivered in time with Faith, her insides reeling and her heart on fire.

They had done it. They had crossed the never crossable line. Buffy had tasted the apple; taken a big, full mouthed bite and loved it more than she had words to express. There was no going back. No pretending it was a dream. No fooling anybody into thinking it was a mistake. She loved the way Faith felt between her thighs, shaking and needing and yet giving so much pleasure. There was no going back from this.

Buffy covered Faith with her hands, touching every inch she could as she rested on top of her. The soft stroke of delicate skin and powerful muscles over her palms stirred her once again. She wished she could smell Faith and not the distant memory of her blood. Wished they were somewhere else, wrapped in damp blankets that smelled of them and how much they yearned for each other's touch.

"Faith," Buffy said raggedly, just wanting to say her name, her hands moving up to cup Faith's face softly so she could kiss her.

Faith moaned into Buffy's mouth as they kissed greedily, her clit still twitching for more, every inch of her buzzing. She'd never buzzed after sex. Never felt so completely full yet hungry for more. Buffy was her drug and she knew she would never have enough of her. Faith craved her; she always had.

"B," Faith whispered shakily between kisses, all her defences obliterated. "You make me feel. . ." she struggled to find words for her meaning.

Buffy kissed over Faith's mouth and up to her nose and cheeks, understanding that Faith didn't know quite how to express herself. Not after all they had been through together, and all they so obviously meant to each other.

"You make me feel," Buffy said simply, not needing Faith to continue. "More than I ever have."

Often the feelings had been bad, angry, hurt. . .but they were all born out of love. Love that had been strangled and cast aside only to rip them apart because they couldn't see it. Love that had them entwined impossibly close now.

Buffy felt tears seep from her eyes and she let out a deep sob, so utterly devastated at ever having denied what she felt. For having denied them the beautifully perfect sensation of having each other fully, completely, in all its sensual glory.

"Hey," Faith said softly, wiping the tears away with her fingers. "Don't cry," she implored, feeling tears welling in her own eyes, seeing them drip onto the face below.

"I can't help it," Buffy sobbed. "This is just so much to feel. It feels like. . ."

"Like you're on fire inside?" Faith asked, receiving an unsteady nod. "I feel it too. I always have," she confessed.

They clung to one another; naked, sex covered bodies needing each other as they let tears flow in the cooling atmosphere. They gazed into the depths of their eyes, seeing all that had been lost to them, and all that could be. Bound together the old woman had said, and Buffy knew for sure what she meant now. She was Faith's, and no amount of kicking and screaming would get her away from that fact this time. She didn't want to get away from it. Didn't want it to be the part of her she kept buried in the dark.

Buffy sniffed back her tears, and ran her fingers through Faith's drying hair as she looked down on her with complete wonder and devotion.

"I'm sorry, Faith," Buffy whispered softly, her voice a quiet quake amongst the stifled breaths. "I'm sorry for everything that happened. Everything I did or didn't do. Everything I should have done or said, and. . ." her speech cut itself short as she began to weep openly once more as her grief poured out.

"Shh," Faith whispered. "No more crying." She kissed over Buffy's face, tasting salty tears and flushed skin. "Everything's gonna be ok," she ensured, feeling that somehow it would.

She hadn't wanted apologies, but more of her heart was claimed at Buffy's words. Faith felt it was time for her own words. She couldn't hold them in any longer, and hoped that what they had shared, what had been insinuated, would keep her safe.

Trailing her lips tenderly over Buffy's cheeks to her mouth, Faith found Buffy's hand with her own and entwined their fingers.

Whispering over soft lips she spoke the words she knew Buffy was poised to hear. "I'm sorry too, B," Faith said, floating above a precipice. "I'm sorry for hurting you. For everything I did wrong," she paused, her heart open, bare, daring. "And you've gotta believe me when I tell you that I love you more than I've ever known how to deal with."

Buffy's lips trembled into a tearful smile. She kissed Faith hard, squeezing her hand as she felt everything click into place. Buffy could sense her world coming back together after it had been ripped apart from their battles. Every piece slotting into place. Slotting into Faith.

Faith wasn't sure if her declaration of love was a confession too far. She had just needed to say it. To unchain it and free it now she knew it to be true. Any answer other than the kiss was taken from her, however. From them both.

The air around them cracked and before either girl could react, they were falling fast, a whooshing noise assaulting their ears as the space around them became a blur of colour and places. Faith felt Buffy being ripped from her arms, but their hands were still clasped. She gripped firmly, not wanting to lose contact with Buffy.

Just as they seemed to have finally rescued each other, they were tossed back into the storm again; left to cling as they spun as if they were in a giant, demonic tornado.

Faith held Buffy's hand tightly. "Don't let go, B," she shouted above the din.

"I won't," Buffy called out and grasped tighter, hoping for a soft landing this time.

*****

Ornaments crashed to the floor. Pictures shook and jolted out of position and the witches held fast, their hands glowing white as they hovered them over the swirling circle before them.

A bolt of lightning struck upwards out of the floor, scorching the ceiling. It temporarily blinded the occupants of the room, but when the blinding light dimmed from their eyes they saw two very naked, but very alive slayers lying in the dishevelled chalk circle.

"Oh, gosh," Giles sputtered as he momentarily watched the girls stirring and trying to get their bearings.

He tugged the throw from his couch, casting it over the slayers as their eyes blinked and muscles twitched. He crouched beside them as their nakedness disappeared under the worn fabric, reaching out to touch Buffy and tell her she was safe.

Buffy leaned on her elbows and looked up at her watcher, catching her breath from the fall. They hadn't landed as hard but the wind had been taken out of her. She swallowed down the sickness the spinning had caused, and glanced down to Faith beside her. Brushing dark hair from Faith's brow she smiled as she saw her open her eyes and arch her eyebrow.

"Fuck, I thought we were gonna be stuck like that," Faith drawled huskily as she shook herself free of the spiralling in her head.

Faith looked around, noticing the blanket hastily thrown on them as they lay on the floor of Giles' apartment. She couldn't quite take it all in. The magical stuff around them, the people standing near, too near given the fact they were both naked. Lifting her hand out of the cover, forgetting it was attached to Buffy's, Faith pushed herself up a little so she could take stock.

"Well, um. . .welcome back," Tara said softly, breaking the tension filled atmosphere.

Willow nodded, looking down at the clasped hands as Faith used her other to hold the throw to her chest.

Xander gawped. He didn't know what to do or say, presented with the girl that had turned on him so viciously in the past. There she was, Faith in all her glory, looking as impressive as ever; all dark hair and haunting eyes as she held onto Buffy. Xander felt the urge to break them apart. To rescue Buffy from Faith's clutches, but Buffy wasn't exactly fighting to get away so it threw him into his own little pit of confusion.

"How are you both? I mean, are you injured?" Giles asked, watching as Buffy looked down to where Faith was holding her hand.

Buffy reluctantly let go of the grip Faith had on her as she felt eyes boring into them both. She tried to speak, but couldn't focus. All she could think about was what had happened just before they'd been pulled back, and what Faith had told her.

"No, we're ok," Faith answered, noticing Buffy's discomfort. "Some clothes would be great, though."

Giles nodded. "Of course. Willow, would you go find something for them both in Faith's room, please?"

Willow stalled for a moment, transfixed by the fact Faith was there, large as life. She shook her head, promising herself she'd think about how it made her feel later. Right now, she had to make Buffy more comfortable, regardless of her own uneasiness. It was what friends did.

She turned from the circle and hastened her way to Faith's room. Before she got very far, she heard the front door swing open and heavy boots plod into the house.

"I got here as fast as I could," Riley said, breathless as he rushed in.

Buffy looked up at him, startled. She hadn't thought about him. Hadn't given him a second in her mind as she'd been writhing around all wet and naked with Faith. She blushed at the memory, and pulled the blanket tighter around herself, wanting to hide. To run. To escape with Faith, back to being alone where it had been easier to cope with the realisation of her feelings, and all that came with them.

"You're safe with me now, Buffy," Riley insisted, moving down beside Buffy and pulling her away from Faith into a hug.

Buffy was instantly repulsed. And instantly heartbroken from the sad look in Faith's deep, dark eyes.

"You're home and safe now," Riley repeated.

She wasn't safe at all. She wasn't home without Faith in her arms, and the thought terrified her. How could they be together? How would anybody understand after all the damage they'd done to each other?

Buffy felt tears escape her and she wanted it to be Faith's fingers catching them and wiping them away, but it wasn't. Not now they were. . .home.

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

"Willow," Giles said, clearing his throat and gesturing towards the stairs.

Willow nodded and hurried away before things got hairy. Riley was looking at Faith like she was some kind of communicable disease he wanted to eradicate. She could understand why, but it seemed like Buffy had come to a different conclusion about Faith. Willow wasn't certain how she could tell, apart from the fact they had been all hand-hold-y. Maybe it was just a feeling. Or maybe it had been the way the two slayers were looking at each other, like they'd finally laid down their weapons.

She rushed into Faith's room and looked around, there was a black tee shirt on the back of a chair; she scooped it up. Spotting a chest of drawers near the unmade bed, she pulled the middle drawer open and tugged out another tee shirt. They didn't look too tight or small, despite the fact they were Faith's. She rooted around some more and found a pair of baggy shorts and some grey jogging pants. They seemed clean so they would do.

Willow stopped for a second and looked around what had become Faith's room. She shivered involuntarily, but then chuckled to herself at how silly it was to feel so on edge. By all accounts, or at least by Giles' account, Faith wasn't the cruel girl she had become before running into Angel in LA. She had changed and truly deserved a second chance.

Tara had helped her see that she should allow Faith the opportunity to make up for what she'd done. She was there to mend herself, and the damage she'd caused. Willow wasn't one to hold grudges. Her heart had always been open and kind and even though she'd said some mean things to Faith once. . .she hadn't really meant them, she'd just been angry. She didn't understand Faith and all she had done, but it was time to try.

As she turned to leave the room, she noticed something poking out from under the tangle of sheets on the bed. Checking to make sure nobody was at the door, Willow tiptoed over to it. She pulled the sheet back a little way to reveal a worn old teddy bear. It looked battered and squashed, but there it lay, wrapped in Faith's bed covers. Faith the `badass' sleeping with a tatty but adorable little bear. It made Willow smile, and realise that Faith was just like any of them in a lot of ways. In most ways. She was just as vulnerable, if not more so under the tough-girl act.

She replaced the sheet over the bear and left the room.

Buffy felt about as uncomfortable as she could possibly be. She was naked and Xander wouldn't stop staring. Her boyfriend wouldn't stop glaring at Faith, and Giles was already starting to ask too many questions she didn't have the answers for yet. How could she explain their complete lack of clothing?

"Buffy, put this on, you don't wanna wear her things I'm guessing," Riley said, removing his thick army sweater and shoving it into Buffy's hands.

She looked at it, then looked up at Faith. Faith glanced away, avoiding her eyes.

"No, it's ok, I'll wear what Willow brings," Buffy insisted, pushing the sweater aside. She didn't want Riley's scent around her now that she could finally smell again.

Willow stopped near the circle the two girls were still in and offered up the clothes. "The black one was over a chair, and the others were in your drawer," she explained, expecting Buffy to feel a little uncomfortable at the prospect of wearing Faith's possibly worn clothing.

Buffy leaned forwards quickly, before Faith could take her pick, snatching the black tee shirt and the pants from Willow's hands. She pulled the top over her head and instantly felt better. Not because she was finally covered, but because it was Faith's shirt. It was Faith's smell. Buffy could swear she could almost feel Faith's warmth on it. It made her feel much more at ease.

Riley furrowed his brow and got to his feet. He felt completely out of place, and he looked it. He watched as Buffy shuffled into Faith's jogging pants under the blanket, her eyes fixed on Faith as she too got dressed. He had a hundred questions going through his head, but he refused to believe his girlfriend had forgiven the other slayer enough to now actually be her friend.

"I suggest the two of you get cleaned up and get some rest. Of course, I'd like to know more about the place you were sent to and what happened there, so I can document it for further research purposes. But we can go through that tomorrow," Giles said, placing the old throw back on his couch now that the girls were standing and dressed.

"Sure," Faith said quietly, her skin crawling under Riley's gaze and Xander's fumbling nervousness beside her. "Thanks for. . .getting us back," she gestured towards the circle and the disarray of magic books piled nearby.

She wanted to get the hell out of there. There were too many people that deserved an apology. Too many people she had fucked over in some way. It made her feel sick to her stomach.

Buffy noticed how uneasy Faith looked. She could fully understand why and her heart went out to her. She saw how the dark shadows beneath Faith's eyes seemed suddenly darker. How her head hung lower than before. Her hands fidgeting and shaking just enough for Buffy to notice. She doubted any of them saw past the darkness and the danger that was Faith, to the soft and longing heart of the girl. Buffy saw now. She saw and she wanted to envelop her in love.

"Faith," Buffy said, her voice holding a tremor that probably gave her away, "can I talk to you?" she asked, walking past everybody and towards the stairs.

Faith looked from Riley to Buffy and nodded her head, following her silently.

"Buffy?" Riley called out, confusion in his tone. "Are you sure you don't just wanna come home? I have a Jeep outside so we can go right away," he said, adding, "I've gotta get back to the squad, so we can't really hang around."

His words were firm, making it clear he expected Buffy to go along with him. She didn't want to cause a scene so nodded.

"I'll be ready in two minutes," Buffy said, smiling reassuringly at Riley as he posed his manly pose.

Buffy ascended the stairs with Faith following close behind. Giles watched them go, pulling his glasses off to tidy up the lens he was sure was dirty. He hoped they weren't about to hear the crashing and banging of a fight. He didn't yet know if they hadn't been trying to kill each other whilst stranded on the other dimension.

Buffy walked slowly but surely into what she supposed was Faith's room. It was dark as the blinds were closed. The bed was messy and there were books placed haphazardly around the few surfaces. She trailed her fingers over one close by on the chest of drawers. It was a history book.

"B," Faith said quietly, pushing the door to but not closing it completely, "you ok?"

Faith didn't know what to say or how to act. They'd just had sex and she'd just told Buffy she loved her, but that. . .well that had quite literally been a world away. She didn't want to push all the wrong buttons now, or expect Buffy to dump her steady and sane boyfriend to be with her; somebody that was far from steady, and still not feeling quite sane.

"Yes, and no," Buffy replied cryptically.

She stepped closer to Faith, taking the fidgeting hands within her own as she stood facing her. She took a second just to look into Faith's eyes as they stayed silent. All she saw was a girl she was falling for. That she had fallen for long ago in fact.

Faith wet her lips and braced herself for rejection.

"We'll work this out, Faith," Buffy said softly as Faith's eyes locked with her own.

She moved a hand out from within Faith's and cupped her cheek, tenderly brushing her thumb over soft skin.

"B, I don't expect you to. . ." Faith paused, distracted by Buffy's warm hand. "I mean, I know you have a life, and a boyfriend, and I'm a big mess of everything that could fuck that up for you, and I don't wanna be the cause of pain for you again," she said, wishing it didn't need to be said.

Buffy didn't allow Faith to say anymore. She leaned forward and brought their lips together, almost chastely kissing Faith, but soft and slow and full of meaning. Faith sighed into the kiss, parting her lips a little to feel more of Buffy's mouth, to take one more taste of everything she wanted.

They both got caught in the moment, soft lips moving over each other as hands sought skin and warmth as they stepped into an embrace. Buffy eventually pulled away, taking a deep breath as she rested her head on Faith's shoulder.

"You smell so good," Buffy whispered, finally able to breathe Faith's scent in instead of the harsh odour of fresh blood. She kissed the delicate skin of Faith's neck, her nose rubbing over it.

"Really?" Faith chuckled deeply, arching her eyebrow. "I've gotta stink pretty bad, B. Haven't showered since the other night."

"Nuhuh," Buffy murmured, still nuzzling. "I like it." She smiled as Faith continued to chuckle.

She felt completely safe in Faith's arms. It bemused her, and why wouldn't it after all that had happened? There was no getting away from the fact they had leapt some kind of great divide, however. They'd shared something immense, tore down each other's barriers with kisses and naked flesh and the affirming embrace of sex; of making love. The apologies and Faith's confession of love. A great love that Buffy could feel coursing through her from Faith.

It made Buffy know she was safe with Faith this time. It wasn't going to be easy, and she was sure at times they'd both feel like running scared again, but there was no going back now. She wanted this, and so did Faith.

"Buffy!" Riley called loudly up the stairs, grabbing Buffy's attention away from Faith.

Faith stepped back at once, removing all but one hand from Buffy. Buffy plucked it from her waist and held it in hers, looking deep into the shadowy corners of Faith's eyes.

"I promise we'll work this out," Buffy said again and Faith nodded sceptically. "We had sex, Faith. I don't do that with just anybody. I don't do that with girls, normally," she said bashfully.

They both laughed a little.

"You don't have to give anything up for me," Faith said soundly, wanting quite the opposite.

"I do, Faith, and I will. Just give me a little time. I can't break his heart without at least trying to let him down gently," Buffy explained, squeezing Faith's hand.

Faith understood that. "What about the guys?" she asked, motioning with her head towards the door, knowing they would cause the real problem.

Buffy took a deep breath, knowing how hard it was going to be because of how protective her friends were. "We'll deal with it," she said firmly. "I'd better go, do you have a cell-phone number?"

"Yeah," Faith replied, recalling the so far unused cell-phone Giles had bought her, and moving to root around on her desk for a pen and some paper. She scribbled her number down and handed it to Buffy.

Buffy smiled and leaned up to kiss Faith quickly before reluctantly turning to go.

"Why now, B?" Faith called quietly after Buffy as she stepped through the door.

Buffy paused in the doorway, looking back at Faith as she stood looking all unkempt yet adorable in a scruffy white tee shirt and overly long shorts.

"Because I can't ignore it anymore. It's too strong, and this time. . .I don't want it to destroy us," Buffy said honestly. "If it's what you want too, then I'm willing to do my best to get it right this time."

"It is what I want," Faith assured, taking a leap. "I know now more than ever."

Buffy smiled broadly, feeling warm all over as she just looked at Faith, knowing the beautiful girl before her was hers completely. Faith; with all her edginess and darkness, her charm and suffocating sex appeal, was hers. She felt her stomach fill with butterflies, refraining from quashing them down like she had done so many times in the past.

"I'll call you soon, Faith," Buffy said, sighing happily, truly happily for the first time in what felt like forever.

Faith watched her go, resting her hand on the doorframe as Buffy disappeared down the stairs. She didn't like letting her go with Riley, but she had no choice. She wasn't in a position to make demands. It was down to Buffy to deal with Riley, Faith just hoped she didn't have to hand him a nice kick in the head if he so much as touched Buffy in anger.

She was trying to be good after all.

Chuckling to herself she made her way downstairs as she heard the front door close. She knew it was safe to come down now as she couldn't feel the faint tingle she normally got from the other slayer.

"Ah, Faith," Giles said, smiling warmly as she entered the living room. "Would you like some tea?"

Faith grinned, holding back laughter at how crazy everything seemed right then. Here she was, back in Sunnydale, Giles making her tea and Buffy making her heart buzz and the scoobs. . .staring at her warily from the other side of the room. Some things never changed, but at least she was on the right track now.

"Thanks, Giles," she said, feeling awkward as she stood in her baggy shorts and worn tee shirt, her hair a ruffled tumble of curls and her body still covered in the remnants of her heated tryst with Buffy.

"I'm glad you both came back ok," Tara said shyly, breaking the uncomfortable silence. "We tried our best for the portal not to hurt you. I'm sorry it kinda destroyed your clothes though."

Faith raised her eyebrows, stopping herself from correcting Tara. "Yeah, um. . .no big. I think it was just the spinning around thing that did it. It was kinda like being in a giant tumble-dryer," she explained.

Tara nodded. Willow nodded. Xander shuffled uneasily.

Faith took a deep breath as the three friends stood in a line before her. She had so much forgiveness to ask for and didn't know where to start. She didn't even think she deserved an ounce of their absolution. She had to say something. She couldn't leave the awkwardness to linger. She had too much to lose now, and so much to gain.

"Guys," Faith said, trying her best not to sound sarcastic or insincere in any way. Complete silence descended over the room. "I can't take back anything I did or said to any of you. Things just don't work that way. But I can tell you how sorry I am."

Xander spluttered a little as he swallowed hard, wanting to believe Faith, but still being utterly afraid of her.

"I didn't mean. . ." Faith continued, looking to the ground momentarily to find the right words, "to do what I did, or to be the person I was. I don't ever expect any of you to understand let alone forgive me, but I promise not to take that route again." She felt tears begin to well in her eyes as she knew the words, every syllable and letter, to be true.

Faith bit down the tears and stood her ground, waiting for rebuffs and scorn.

Xander cleared his throat, wanting so much for things to be ok. He wasn't sure he was man enough to forgive just yet, but he was prepared to try. He scratched his head and nodded slightly at Faith. There were things far scarier on the hellmouth than Faith after all.

Willow took Tara's hand in her own, knowing she could face anything with her by her side. She smiled gently at Faith, sensing that the girl before her had matured and learned from her past mistakes. She could feel how much Faith was hurting inside with all she'd done. It was tangible. She wasn't going to add to it and make the journey harder for Faith, and she knew Tara felt the same.

"Everything will work out," Willow said, confirming it to herself as much as anything.

"I second that," Tara said kindly, turning to smile at her lover beside her.

Faith brushed her fingers through her hair and felt more relief than she had been expecting. It was good not to feel like she was being constantly judged. She was still wary, and still utterly sorry for what she'd done, but there was a chink of light now where once there had only been darkness.

"Tea up," Giles called brightly, breaking the tension as he entered with a tray of cups and saucers.

He had heard every word from the kitchen and was immensely proud of Faith for daring to apologise. She had grown so much in such a short time and he had nothing but admiration for her and the way she was developing. The girl he'd first met was nothing in comparison to the young woman stood beside him now.

Faith seemed to have taken hold of all her power, and the forces within her, and was ruling it, rather than it ruling her.

Giles rested his hand gently on Faith's shoulder and smiled sincerely at her as the others busied themselves with handing out cups and biscuits. "Welcome home, Faith," he said softly as she looked up affectionately at him.

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Dedication: For Electra, and everybody who takes the time to review :)

Faith left the bathroom in a steamy haze as she walked, clad only in a towel, to her bedroom. The hot shower she'd stood under for almost an hour had helped to wash away the tension of the past few days, but she was still edgy. A little anxious about all that had happened in such a short time.

She sat on the corner of the bed and looked at herself in the mirror hanging on the wall not too far away. She frowned, gazing at dark towel dried hair draping still damply over her shoulders, her face devoid of the mask of makeup. She wasn't sure if she hated herself any less now than she had before finally being able to tell Buffy how sorry she was. She wasn't sure if she deserved to have Buffy's forgiveness let alone her love.

The girl looking back at her in the mirror was certainly different to the girl that had done such cruel things so easily. But then, she was fooling herself if she really believed any of it had been easy. The blood she'd spilled onto her hands burned her still, and the scars went much deeper than the one Buffy had rightfully given her. Betraying everything she stood for hadn't been easy, and it was achingly hard trying to move on from it and put right the wrongs.

She didn't know where to start, but the apologies she'd made certainly went some way to help. She felt a little lighter. The words were out, now all she needed to do was prove her worth. . .and Faith didn't think much of herself so it was going to take some effort.

She wondered what Buffy saw in her. She didn't know why Buffy was suddenly looking at her and thinking it was a good idea to dump her boyfriend, and any semblance of normality and sanity, to be with her. Faith could only stare at herself and hope the small smile she had didn't go away. She wanted to trust in it.

Buffy felt something for her. It went deep. Deeper than either of them could probably understand. Was it true love the like of which was written about in books? Faith didn't have a clue, she'd never read those kinds of books. All she really knew was that Buffy made her feel whole when she smiled at her. That her body longed to be near Buffy. To be held by Buffy. She was so profoundly in love it scared the hell out of her.

Her feelings for Buffy had always terrified her, but now wasn't the time to force them to bounce off her protective shield. Her shields were down with Buffy, and Buffy's were down with her. The dimension they had been hurled from so unceremoniously had left them with no choice but to drop the barriers once and for all.

Taking one last look at herself, smiling until her teeth flashed pearl white, Faith stood and pulled her towel off. She draped it over the chair near her bed and climbed under the fresh cotton sheets she'd taken the time to put on. It was early still, but she was beyond weary.

The cool cotton felt like heaven slipping around her as she melted into the soft mattress. A couple of nights sleeping on hard rock could make any bed feel like nirvana. She knew that from experience; running away was always far from comfortable, and she'd spent most of her life running from one place to another.

She sighed and hoped her running had stopped.

As Faith closed her eyes, she thought of Buffy and how they'd leapt from perfect enemies to lovers in such a short time. They'd always been on that brink it seemed. Just waiting for the push that toppled them over into each other. She smiled, the memory of Buffy's body pressed passionately against her leaving her feeling warm and tingly.

A short while after sleep had decided to curl its grasp around Faith and pull her into its dreaming depths, a chirping noise startled her awake again.

She opened her dark eyes and looked towards her nightstand. The little cell-phone perched on its top flashed and bounced as it vibrated. Faith stretched her arm out of the covers and reached out to bring the phone closer so she could see who was calling. Only three people had her number; Giles, Angel, and Buffy. The lit screen showed her an unfamiliar number.

"Hello?" Faith answered, her drowsiness making her voice thick and grainy.

"Hey," came a soft voice, flowing like silk over Faith.

"Hey, B," Faith said back, unable to stop the smile that followed. She hadn't expected Buffy to call so soon. They'd only parted a few hours earlier. "Everything ok?"

"Yeah," Buffy said almost shyly as she rested back on her pillows in bed, kicking her feet out under the covers as she felt her body sigh with what Faith's drawling tone could do to her.

She'd told herself she could wait and call Faith the next day, but having endured Riley pawing over her until she'd told him to leave so she could rest, Buffy needed to touch base; to know everything was ok. She was tired and drained emotionally, but she'd wanted to just hear Faith's voice one last time before snuggling down to sleep.

"I didn't disturb you did I?" Buffy asked, sure that Faith sounded like she'd been asleep.

"No, you didn't, B. Was just in bed," Faith said, yawning and rubbing her eye as she tried to become fully aware again. "That place wore me out."

"Yeah, I know the feeling," Buffy chuckled, scooting a little further down into her plush blankets.

She felt a little awkward. Buffy didn't know quite what to say. How do you make light conversation with a girl that had turned your world upside down in so many different ways, so many times?

"Yunno, this is the first time we've spoken on the phone," Faith pointed out, breaking the gentle silence.

"Yeah, I guess," Buffy answered, knowing full well what a mess they'd both made of things the first time around; her especially. "I was missing you," she confessed, almost too quietly.

Faith smiled and imagined tenderly touching Buffy's face. Faith was imagining all kinds of tender things with Buffy, and that was something entirely new to her. Faith had never been a tender girl; she was hot and heavy, hard and fast; but not with Buffy. Buffy deserved more, though Faith knew they would probably have their share of passionate clinches that would make them sway on their legs and need to count the playful bite marks afterwards.

"Faith?" Buffy said cautiously, wondering why Faith had suddenly gone quiet.

She worried that she had sounded a little clingy and desperate, but it was how she felt. Now she'd tasted what it could be like, Buffy wanted more. She wanted it all, nothing in-between, nothing half-assed, nothing that was like stoking the fires without letting her truly feel the heat. She wanted the heat, all over her like they'd been in the cave.

"Sorry, B. Was just thinking," Faith said, shaking naughty images from her head at the sound of Buffy's voice. "So, you're missing me huh," she teased, grinning.

Buffy felt herself blush a little, caught in the act of needing Faith. "Yeah, I musta hit my head when we landed," she joked, just knowing Faith's eyebrow had jerked up playfully.

"Nah, face it, B. . .you're crazy about me, and who wouldn't be?" Faith smirked, bringing back some of their old banter.

"As much as it pains me to admit it, Faith. . .you're right," Buffy said, being completely honest and catching Faith off guard.

Faith didn't quite know how to respond. Buffy was being totally honest with her for once and she just couldn't seem to wrap her mind around it. All she had desired was now there for Faith to take, but she wasn't sure how to just reach and grab for it without tipping the balance back the other way. She wanted Buffy to be sure and open in her feelings, and Faith knew she had to do the same, or they'd end up right back where they'd been before.

"I'm glad about that or it'd be kinda lame. . .what with me being all crazy about you," Faith said with a chuckle, feeling her stomach churn into a tight knot as the words hit the phone.

Buffy smiled broadly and bit her lip. She felt like a giddy teenager with a crush. She felt like they could begin again, on an even playing field, everything laid bare with no mixed messages or confusion. They'd always been a mass of mixed messages; getting all the signs wrong, blowing all their chances. So busy trying to avoid feeling it themselves that the other girl had no chance to pick up on anything but mild contempt, then stubborn hate, when neither feeling was anywhere near as powerful as the suffocating love and lust beneath the surface.

"Yunno, Faith," Buffy began, "I got kinda hooked on you when you first came to Sunnydale. You were everything I wasn't, and I guess. . .everything I wanted, even though I just wouldn't allow myself to see it that way." She paused, listening to Faith's soft breaths on the other end of the phone. "I didn't allow myself to see it, or feel it. . .and then you were gone, or at least you changed," she said finally in a whisper.

Faith looked into the dark crevices of the room, her mind elsewhere, knowing what Buffy meant. When she'd killed Finch everything had changed, her included. From that point on it had been a nosedive of epic proportions. Each one of them had mishandled and misjudged everything that it was possible to.

"The hardest part of it all was losing you," Faith said, her voice a hushed and throaty murmur down the line. She felt her heart wrench at the memory. "I shut you out `cause I needed you. I shut it all out. Everyone and everything."

"What made it stop?" Buffy asked, wanting to wrap her arms around Faith this time instead of judge her and misunderstand her.

"Angel. Well, him and the fact I finally really looked at myself. . .and I hated what I saw," Faith answered candidly. "It wasn't me looking back, it was somebody else. Something else. I wanted to cut it out of me, but now I know it's a part of me that I have to deal with. That I have to take control of and guide, until that part doesn't threaten to take me over again."

Faith took a deep breath, hoping she was making sense to Buffy, who'd never been known for her tolerant and understanding nature. Faith recalled all of the things Angel had told her and all the things her therapist Dr. Tan had said to her. With their help she had started to peel back her layers and find the parts that needed a firmer hand. She'd been quite successful at it so far, even though Buffy had tested her in their short incarceration together.

"I was so angry at you, Faith," Buffy said bluntly but softly. "About everything, even about the way I felt about you. I wanted to hit out at you for making me hurt in ways I didn't think I should be. You were. . ." Buffy felt tears sting her eyes, "you were this bright light I wanted to touch, but every time I reached out you burned me. I didn't know why, so I turned on you, and on my own heart." A tear heavy sob drifted from Buffy's throat.

Faith swallowed hard, not wanting them to be forever drowning in their past mistakes with each other. She wanted them to be free of the pain and the chafing memory of how they'd hurt each other.

"But we can get it right this time, B. If it's what you want we can make it better," Faith said, trying to reassure Buffy and have her recall that they were already on the road to recovery. "We have so much between us. I think we always did right from the start, and neither of us could deal, especially not when everything went to shit."

"You're right," Buffy said, smiling a little through her tears; feeling good for allowing Faith to be right finally, and not needing to knock her down to make herself feel superior. "I wanted you right from the start," she continued coyly, lifting the mood a little.

"See, I knew it. You were as horny for me as I was for you," Faith chuckled deeply in the back of her throat, her skin tingling with the knowledge she was right. "We're both hot chicks so I guess we can't be blamed."

Buffy laughed out loud and wished that Faith was right there with her so she could see the grin she knew Faith would be wearing, and the impossibly sexy dimples that always tagged along for the ride.

"I wish I was with you," Buffy said faintly as she pulled Faith's black shirt towards her from its perch on top of the covers. She placed the shirt near her head and breathed in deeply, the scent washing through her nostrils like a wave of pleasure. "I wanna be close to you. Kissing you. Touching you," Buffy said, her voice hushed and laden with desire for Faith.

"Hey, you're gonna get me all riled up here if you keep talking like that, B," Faith revealed, her thoughts going back to the kissing and touching they'd already done.

"And we can't have that huh, `cause then you'd be all turned on and alone, and I could get you to tell me what you're wearing and get you to be all pervy with me on the phone," Buffy snickered, not realising until too late that her words were about to come back and bite her as she tried to keep the mood light and easy. She had no experience of phone sex so had only really been joking.

"Nothing, B," Faith said huskily, confusing Buffy for a second. "I'm wearing nothing, and just thinking about you is getting me wet here."

Buffy exhaled shakily and pictured Faith naked under her lucky sheets. She felt a tremor of wetness coat her pussy and closed her eyes, trying to focus on anything but Faith and how sexy and alluring she was, especially when naked and hers for the taking. She could almost feel Faith's soft skin brushing over her, hot and glistening and touching every part of her that needed to be touched.

"You're naked?" Buffy asked timidly, her plan to focus not lasting very long.

"Yeah, B. That's normally how I sleep. . .and it's how I wanna spend a lot of my time with you," Faith said frankly, knowing that Buffy was bound to be as easily turned on as she was.

They longed for each other, so the simplest things, the smallest gestures and most hidden signals had each other yearning for the heights of pleasure they could take each other.

Buffy licked her lips and kept her eyes shut tight as she allowed her mind to wander for just a second. She had soft insistent breaths in her ear, she could smell Faith on the shirt beside her, and she could swear she could almost feel Faith's hands on her; sweeping up the insides of her thighs and pushing her legs apart, spreading her so she crawl between them.

Buffy groaned and bit her lip. "Ok, we so can't do this," she sighed, a slight tremble to her voice.

"We can't do what?" Faith asked, hearing how worked up Buffy was getting on the other end of the phone and knowing what she meant. "I can make you come from here, B. All you have to do is lay back and close your eyes and I'll tell you how I'm touching you and tasting you until you're calling out my name down the phone," Faith said enticingly, her voice growing thick with lust.

"Oh, God. . .what have I let myself in for with you?" Buffy said, giggling breathlessly as she tried to shake off the overwhelming horny sensation Faith had so easily wrapped her up in.

Faith was always going to have her hovering on the edge, ready and willing to jump into a sticky pool of pleasure. It made her realise why she'd never allowed it before. Buffy had always wanted to be in control, of herself more than anything. Giving in to what Faith did to her was relinquishing that control. But control was overrated and Faith most certainly wasn't. Buffy knew Faith could play her perfectly, like a nimble fingered musician pulling notes from an instrument.

Buffy wanted her in the flesh, however, not across town over the phone, as her mom shuffled about outside her door getting ready for bed.

"I wanna be with you properly, Faith. Completely. Not like this; at least for now," Buffy made clear, cooling her ardour as she took a steadying breath.

Faith smiled gently, feeling every word penetrate her heart. She relaxed her tensed muscles and felt for certain it would be soon. They would have each other again. For now Faith would be content with just being able to talk with Buffy. It was better than nothing, and at least there was no shouting and yelling anymore.

"Ok, B, I'll quit teasing you, but don't think for a second you're gonna get away with it next time I see ya," Faith taunted. "You'd better be ready for me, `cause I'm dripping for you right now, all over myself, and I need to have you in the worst way," she said sensually, an evil grin gliding over her lips.

Buffy gulped soundlessly and drove the thoughts of Faith's dripping wet sex from her mind with great difficulty, trying to salvage the conversation back from the brink of full on phone sex. She had to blushingly admit that she wanted to fuck Faith thoroughly, all inhibitions aside. . .but not over a telephone signal.

"Right," Buffy sighed, her libido doing summersaults and cartwheels around the room, "now you've made absolutely sure I'm not gonna sleep, quit making with the horny and lets talk about what we're gonna say to Giles; about the place we were in and what happened there."

Faith chuckled. "Well, that was one hell of a mood killer, blondie. Bring up the G-man. Sure way to make me cross my legs," she said playfully, gaining a soft laugh from the other side of the call.

It was an abrupt change of subject, but Faith wasn't annoyed or upset. She could deal with it because Buffy was worth it. They were worth it together. Finally together, apart from the small fact of not actually being together because of Riley. There was no way she was going to push Buffy about Riley, however. It was Buffy's business, and she could sense that he wasn't going to be in the way for too long.

They finished the night talking about what they would tell Giles. Of course, they were going to leave out the semi-dream they'd shared and what had happened in it, and the fact they'd had a kind of epiphany causing them to fall into each other's arms and finally crawl over the broken glass of their past, to share the most intimate of apologies.

Buffy wanted to tell him about how wrong she had been to trust what was most likely the bad guy, but Faith didn't see the point. There was nothing to gain in telling Giles how adrift Buffy had been. Faith explained that they should keep it simple, giving basic facts that the knowledge hungry watcher would drool over, rather than going into the details of emotions and discoveries between the two slayers. Buffy finally agreed and they had their account of the other dimension synchronized.

"I guess I should let you sleep now," Buffy said, her eyes growing heavy as her head sank further into the soft pillow.

"Yeah," Faith accepted, feeling the night growing thicker around her as she allowed her body to uncoil from the past few days. "I'll see you around?"

"Of course, Faith," Buffy reassured, smiling as Faith began to talk slowly and sleepily.

There was no doubt she was in love with Faith now. Buffy's heart warmed from her voice alone. Her arms longed to curl around Faith's slender frame, keeping her pressed close as she slept.

"Night, short-stuff," Faith mumbled, exhaustion pulling her deeper as she rested on the small phone, pushing it into the pillow with her.

Buffy listened as Faith's breathing evened out, not wanting to wake Faith so she could end the call and move her cell-phone.

"Goodnight, beautiful," Buffy whispered, denying herself the sting of hanging up by propping the phone next to her ear as she settled down into her blankets.

She didn't want to leave Faith now. Not now they had found their bond again; this time making it stronger, affirming what it really was. She was still amazed at how her heart had so easily jumped from hurting to loving and longing in a swift leap, but some things just came when you let down the walls. Her feelings for Faith had crashed down her defences in the end, and she was glad. She was happy that they could find the right path together rather than struggle along alone, waiting for the other slayer to carve across it and make the journey more difficult.

Buffy realized that it didn't have to be difficult. Not if Faith was by her side, and in her heart.

She closed her eyes and followed Faith into the realm of sleep, deciding that tomorrow would be the start of a whole new chapter in her life. She wasn't going to hold back or run scared. She wasn't going to overanalyze or worry about the what-ifs. Buffy wanted Faith. She craved and claimed and knew she would never have enough of her; but it wasn't making her flee like it had in the past, it was making Buffy resolute that nothing was going to stand in the way.

Not even her own deep-seated fears.

CHAPTER TWENTY

Buffy bustled into Giles' shop, dropping a book to the ground as she squeezed through with her bag, doing her best not to drop the rest of the books in her hands. College wasn't as much fun as she thought it should be. There were too many books and papers, classes and responsibilities. She wasn't doing well with it at all.

"Ahh, Buffy, I'm glad you could make it," Giles said cheerfully. "You're the first here, but Faith just called to tell me she's on her way."

He shuffled some papers about on the table in the middle of the shop, clearing a space for Buffy to place her bag. She eased down into the wooden chair, taking a deep breath as she relaxed in familiar surroundings; though it wasn't the shop that made her feel instantly comfortable. It was Giles. He'd always been there for her, guiding her and looking after her. There had been a moment of uncertainty when he'd done the council's bidding on her eighteenth birthday, but they had resolved that issue between them, with understanding and love.

He was like her father now. Better than the original in fact. Giles was always there. Always with a gentle smile and an open heart. Buffy knew she could tell him anything.

She watched as he spilled coffee on some paperwork as he flustered about behind the counter. "Giles," she said, trying to catch his attention, "I need to tell you something. It's about Faith. Well, me and Faith, or is it Faith and I?" Buffy furrowed her brow. "Anyway, we. . .we're. . ." Buffy was interrupted by the chiming of the shop bell.

She closed her eyes and sighed, wondering if she'd ever have the courage again to – almost - tell Giles how she felt about Faith. She noticed that Giles didn't seem to be paying much attention to her anyway. He was frowning fiercely and rooting around in a trinket box.

"I come bearing gifts," Xander called as he entered the shop. "I do believe I'm the king of donuts. That or I just want you all to get fat so I look a little more svelte and dynamic, like all good superhero sidekicks." He grinned to himself and plonked a box of donuts in front of Buffy.

Willow and Tara weren't far behind him, bustling into the shop as they chatted about magic. Buffy looked on as the three of them found places to sit. She smiled and replied to their greetings, but she was on edge. The only person she really wanted to see wasn't there yet.

Buffy didn't know how she was going to react when Faith came. She knew her friend's probably expected her to still be wary of Faith, even angry and bitter. But she was none of those things. She'd had a day apart from Faith to figure out that she was indeed head over heels in love with her. All day long, all Buffy had been able to think about was Faith.

It had always been that way when she was around, but now. . .the thoughts weren't of the kind trying to make her forget she liked her, but proving to her that she wanted her, more than ever. Faith was burned into her. Body and soul.

Buffy smiled to herself as she thought about Faith. Lost in a little fantasy of Faith peeling off her clothes and seducing her, Buffy failed to notice the change in atmosphere as the girl herself came into the shop via the backdoor. Everybody looked from Buffy and back to Faith, gauging the tension. Buffy looked at her friends, searching for signs of distress or hate, but she found nothing but waiting expectant stares.

She was obviously expected to break the ice, as Faith shuffled to the far side of the counter, dropping her backpack and nodding a hello to Giles.

Buffy took a second just to watch Faith as she loitered behind the counter, away from the group. Buffy didn't know what to say, not in front of her friends. How were they expecting her to act? Buffy didn't know. She wanted to say hi to Faith. She wanted to move closer to her, but she was being scrutinized. So she watched for a minute or two, just gazing at Faith's soft tumble of dark hair. Her strong, striking frame, so small yet so powerful. The clouded eyes, heavy with black eye liner, drifting up to meet her in the hush of the room.

Buffy instantly found herself falling into Faith's eyes. She willed herself to look away so she wouldn't draw attention to it, but she couldn't. Faith looked every bit as dark and dangerous as she always had, but there was a softness to how she was looking at Buffy. Like her eyes were wrapping Buffy in a warmth she had never felt before. She wanted to reach out over the distance and touch Faith. Her hands were yelling at her that they wanted to feel the silk of her hair and the charge of her skin.

Buffy could feel her heart beginning to jump and bounce in her chest as she drifted into chocolate brown eyes and thoughts of kissing Faith's tempting full lips. A familiar feeling fluttered through her. Feelings Faith had always instilled. She wanted her. Buffy had always wanted her.

"So," Xander said abruptly, breaking the silence that had descended. "Are we all gonna have to start learning the art of mime, or are we allowed to talk yet?" He looked uneasily from Buffy to Faith, fidgeting in his seat. "This is getting kinda weird, and heading into that scary place I think we've had about enough of."

"I agree," Willow said, nodding. "It's time to move on. Buffy?" Willow said, trying to catch Buffy's attention away from Faith.

They were mistaking the tension between the two slayers as bad, hate filled tension, but it wasn't. Not any more. Buffy decided not to put them right just yet. There would be a time for that, but right now she just wanted to get close enough to talk to Faith without it seeming odd.

"Yeah, it's time," Buffy agreed, smiling just a little.

She took a deep breath and stood. She felt incredibly nervous. Her hands smoothing down her shirt as she hovered next to the table, looking for some kind of salvation from the awkward predicament. Thankfully, Giles cleared his throat, splitting some of the attention from Buffy. He placed his now empty cup on the table and smiled gently at Buffy.

"I um. . .I need some help looking for a piece of text," he said softly, letting Buffy walk behind him and towards Faith as he pushed books towards the rest of the gang. "It seems we missed something vital from the spell when. . ."

Buffy heard nothing more that he said as she got closer to Faith.

"Hi," she said, speaking quietly as she approached Faith, moving behind the counter with her.

"Hey," Faith replied, feeling just as awkward as Buffy looked.

She hadn't been able to take her eyes from Buffy as soon as she'd entered the shop. Buffy looked as beautiful as ever. As untouchable as ever.

Buffy let out a little laugh as they stood an arms length away, just gazing at each other as the rest of the occupants of the shop immersed themselves in research mode. They both wanted to shove the barriers aside. The restraints. But it wasn't easy, and that was plainly obvious. As much as they had said, and done, there was still the sparks of tension jolting between them. It would probably always be there. They were on fire for each other in every way. Bursts of need and desire crashing between them, soaking the atmosphere in anticipation.

Buffy gazed over her fellow slayer, finally able to unlock her eyes from Faith's. She was dressed in black, a tight black encasing of denim and leather. Her top was low cut, pushing Faith's breasts up to capture undivided attention as they peeked out of the confines of her jacket. She didn't look slutty, but there was a definite hint of cleavage-y and sexy going on. A big hint.

"Do you normally dress like that to see your therapist?" Buffy asked, wetting her lips as she took in the stunning girl stood before her.

Faith chuckled, noticing exactly where Buffy's eyes had lingered and burned. She had felt the lust within them crawling over her body. Finally able to detect it and not confuse it for something else.

"No, B," Faith replied, grinning a little. "I thought some of the old Faith charm would help me out today. Giles' note explaining my absence didn't sound too convincing. I think he needs practice. I just wanted to make sure she bought it."

Buffy tried not to feel jealous, but when it came to Faith she had always felt possessive. She'd had a hard time coming to terms with that and not writing it off as something else, but it was all too clear now. There was still a piece of her that wanted to twist Xander's arms off for touching Faith. But the past was just that, and the future hopefully held a world full of possibilities, and chances to make sure she was always around to help Faith out when she was experiencing a post slaying tingle.

She wasn't going to leave Faith thinking she didn't care what she was up to, however. "She? So you dressed like that `cause she's gay and you thought your volumous breasts would keep you out of trouble?" she asked, careful not to let the others hear her as she teased Faith.

Faith chuckled, seeing the jealousy in Buffy's eyes. It was kind of a comfort. Knowing that Buffy cared who she was flirting with told her a lot about what Buffy was feeling for her. "Nah, she's not gay, more like bi-curious I'm guessing. And yeah, these babies are great at distracting people," she winked, following Buffy's gaze down to her cleavage.

"Yeah, I've noticed," Buffy agreed, peeling her eyes away from the soft round temptation of Faith's chest. "Wait. . .bi-curious? Did you just make that up?"

Laughing, Faith shook her head. "No, it's what you were up until the other day." Faith licked her lips, remembering how good Buffy had felt beneath her, hot and trembling for her.

"Hey," Buffy protested, earning a few brief glances their way. She waited for the eyes to turn from them before playfully whacking Faith in the stomach.

She left her hand to linger for a second, feeling the heat of Faith's skin through the tight material of her top. They both looked over to the table of avid researchers, ensuring they weren't looking their way. Buffy dropped her hand lower, slipping it into Faith's for a few precious seconds. Their hands were out of view due to the high counter top, but Buffy wasn't going to give her friends reason to faint.

Faith glanced down to their hands, holding lightly, barely touching but revealing a thousand unspoken truths. She stroked her thumb gently over the back of Buffy's hand, sending shivers through both of them. They were hardly connected, but their bodies hummed with need. Aching to bridge the gap. To sweep each other up and confirm that all the pain was slipping away, leaving them back at the start to begin again. To get it right this time. To love, fully, passionately, without lies and confusion.

Giles stole their attention as he called over for something he'd left nearby them. Buffy gently squeezed Faith's hand and released it. She wasn't ready to move away from Faith just yet. She couldn't will herself away when all she could feel was Faith, tickling her skin in all the places she wanted to be connected to her.

Keeping impossibly close to Faith, Buffy slipped past her, moving behind her slowly. She pressed close to her, pretending like there wasn't enough room to get by without them touching. Her fingers brushed over the harsh denim of Faith's jeans as she ran her hand over them, feeling Faith react to her touch. Buffy kept her eyes fixed on the table of people and allowed her hand to drift up to the hardness of Faith's belt, passing beyond it to sneak under her jacket and top.

Faith sighed softly as Buffy's fingertips tripped delicately over her lower back just above her low slung jeans.

"It was nice talking to you last night," Buffy said quietly, her fingers catching fire as they blazed a trail over Faith's skin.

"Yeah, it was," Faith replied, shuddering almost imperceptibly as Buffy's nails scratched over her softly.

Faith fought to control her breathing and the distinct urge to spin around and kiss Buffy until she was limp in her arms. She watched through dark, desire ridden eyes as the gang read through their books, oblivious to the fact Faith was seconds away from letting them know that Buffy was unfairly teasing her. She could smell the distinct aroma of the other girl as it washed through her senses. Shampoo, perfume, desire. Faith's nostril's flared as she caught the tang of Buffy's need.

"B," she said softly, breathlessly, trying to restrain herself, "if you keep doing that with your nails I'm gonna have to fuck you." Her voice was rough and needy, low enough only for Buffy to hear, taking a chance that she hadn't said the wrong thing.

Buffy moaned almost silently. She wanted Faith, unrestrained, the hot and horny girl that had haunted her dreams. The years of pushing out all the naughty thoughts she'd had of Faith had left her greedy with lust. She'd never wanted anybody as much, and it had scared her into pushing it out of her mind, but now was not the time for pushing. She was done pushing. Done treating Faith with contempt in her need to keep her at arms length.

"Maybe that's what I want, Faith," Buffy replied, her tongue wrapping around her name like a lover.

Faith turned her head to look at Buffy. Their eyes locked, searching and feeling. Yearning and craving. The look they shared was usually a prelude to a fight, but their fighting was over, and all that was left was the need for hot skin and exploring touches. Wet kisses and intimate embraces. They were struck by the desire in each other's gaze.

"Buffy, did you find the book?" Giles called over, breaking the tension between the two girls.

Buffy whipped her head round to look at Giles, blinking as she tried to recall what he was talking about. "The what?" she said, her voice a little shaky as her fingers dropped to rest on Faith's belt.

"The book I just asked you for, Buffy," he repeated, looking a little puzzled.

Giles studied the two slayers as they stood close together behind the counter. He wondered why they were so near to each other, and where Buffy's hand was, as he could plainly see her arm was raised behind Faith from his standing position next to the table. He hoped things weren't heading towards the possibility of his shop being destroyed. Something in Faith's eyes, a reassuring look, told him not to worry. Giles sat back down as Buffy began looking for the book he needed.

Buffy pushed some papers off an old book and decided it must have been the one Giles wanted. Her fingers tripped over Faith's belt down to her firm backside. She brushed her hand over Faith as she began to move away, sharing a heated look that informed them both that all they wanted was each other.

Faith breathed out steadily, regaining her composure as Buffy made her way back round to the other side of the counter. She could have sworn she'd almost heard Buffy tell her she loved her, but Buffy's lips hadn't moved. Maybe she'd just felt it. There was no doubt she felt the need from Buffy. It buzzed between them now more than ever. Like electric spiralling around them, twisting them up in it, pleading for them to unleash each other from their own versions of solitary darkness.

Faith smiled to herself, feeling lighter than she ever had. She watched Buffy hand Giles the book, noticing every glinting strand of blonde hair, every strong muscle stir under her silky skin as she moved. She wanted to know every inch of Buffy. Chart every dip and curve. Every beat of her pulse and every sigh in her breath as she made love to her.

"Hmm, this isn't the one I was looking for. It must be downstairs," Giles said, rubbing his forehead as he examined the book that had been handed to him. "There's a very important passage in it that may explain. . .well, we'll get to that momentarily. First I need to make sure I'm not completely off the mark."

It didn't seem like anybody knew what he was talking about, but nobody mentioned that to him.

Faith edged closer to the busy table, grateful that nobody flinched or ran screaming from the room. Tara smiled gently at her so she smiled back, hoping it seemed genuine. Her first meeting with Tara hadn't been a good one, but she was there to put all that right. They were all buried in various books, doing what they were best at it seemed. It always surprised Faith how they dedicated their lives to helping Buffy. They all loved her, and Faith was no exception. She'd loved Buffy from the very moment she'd seen her, watching – unnoticed – from across The Bronze as Buffy sat amongst her friends.

She turned her smile to Buffy, open, without barrier or conditions. Her dimples deepened as Buffy smiled back sweetly, looking up at her a little through her eyelashes.

"You want me to go find the book, G?" Faith asked, not taking her eyes from Buffy for a second.

"Yes, thank you, that would be very helpful, Faith," Giles replied, removing his glasses as he explained to her what the book looked like.

"Gotcha," Faith nodded. "I'm looking for an old book called. . .something about crabs."

"The Krabalba," Giles corrected. "It's quite an ingenious book, full of potions and helpful tips about magical. . ." his words once again went unheard as Faith zoned out and made her way to the door that lead down to the bowels of the shop. "Make sure you don't bring up the one next to it, it's a quite different book altogether," he called after her.

"Sure," Faith replied as she descended the steps.

"I'll go help her look," Buffy said in a rush, not waiting for objections or questions.

She followed Faith, praying that nobody else tagged along so she was able to have at least five minutes alone with her.

As the door to the steps closed shut, Xander turned to Giles and raised his eyebrow. "Is it wise for those two to be left alone together?" he asked. "I mean. . .I'm not saying they might start pulling each other's limbs off, but going on previous history. . .I hope you're insured."

All four of them looked towards the door and held their breaths. All was quiet, and Giles was pretty sure the precious objects adorning the shelves in the basement would survive.

"I'm sure it'll be fine," Giles reassured. "They've been through a lot, but something tells me they won't make the same mistakes again."

He replaced his glasses, nodding to himself. He didn't know how he knew, but he was certain that his two girls would make it through unscathed this time.

...continued in chapter 21...

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